Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twenty-Fifth and Twenty-Sixth Report


COM(02) 96

Commission Communication: Next Generation Internet — priorities for action in migrating to the new Internet protocol IPv6.

Legal base:
Document originated:21 February 2002
Deposited in Parliament: 21 March 2002
Department:Trade and Industry
Basis of consideration: EM of 9 April 2002
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: Seville European Council in June 2002
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared


  14.1  The Commission recalls that the eEurope 2002 Action Plan, endorsed at the Feira European Council in June 2000[37], identified three objectives for which action at European level would be valuable. They included affordable access, by businesses and citizens, to a world-class communications infrastructure and the rapid development of a wide range of competitive online services. One action would specifically address the next generation internet, including mobile internet and the need for a vastly increased Internet IP address space.

  14.2  In its March 2001 Communication on the Introduction of Third Generation Mobile Communications in the European Union: State of Play, and the Way Forward, the Commission again stressed that the limitations of IPv4 could hinder the full deployment of Third Generation Mobile Communications. The proposed new Internet Protocol version, IPv6, vastly increases the global address space currently available under IPv4, but the transition to all-IPv6 networks would require several years of effort.

  14.3  In a Communication, eEurope 2002 Impact and Priorities[38], presented to the March 2001 Stockholm European Council, the Commission encouraged the Member States to make a commitment to introducing IPv6 into publicly-owned networks and to set up a group, with industry, to put forward proposals for accelerating the introduction of IPv6. Again, the Commission stressed the need to enlarge the IP numbering space to facilitate mobile internet use and the development of new and more secure services.

The Commission Communication

  14.4  The Commission comments in the Communication we consider here that market demand for space is expected to rise rapidly with the development of broadband infrastructures such as ADSL[39], peer-to-peer communications and the demand for machine-to-machine communications.

  14.5  The report explains that networked devices, such as web servers, e-mail servers or home Personal Computers (PC), communicate using a numeric address and a protocol called the Internet Protocol (IP). This requires that devices anywhere on the internet have unique IP addresses so that data packets can be carried (routed) between the devices across one or more Internet Service Provider (ISP) networks. The current version, IPv4[40], was designed in the 1970s and has been in use for over twenty years. Given the limitations of hardware at the time, the original internet designers chose to use only 32 bits to represent IPv4 addresses. Those 32 bits allow 232, or just over 4,000 million, addresses. IPv6 uses 128-bit addresses which will allow 2128, or just over 4 billion*4billion*4billion*4billion[41] unique IP addresses, which should be enough for the foreseeable future.

  14.6  The Communication reports on the findings of the Commission's IPv6 Task Force which the Commission set up, with industry, in April 2001. It makes a number of recommendations to Member States, the Commission and industry. The report has been summarised by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Ms Patricia Hewitt) in her Explanatory Memorandum as follows:

    "The report holds that the EU needs to play more of a leading role in developing and mastering the core technologies for the next generation of the internet, including the mobile internet.

    "The report highlights perceived problems with the current internet addressing protocol, IPv4, such as the uneven distribution of address space between North America and the rest of the world. It concludes that there is a risk that IPv4 addresses will become 'critically scarce' by 2005, whilst acknowledging IPv4 addresses may 'never be completely exhausted'.

    "The report holds that the increased address space that would be made available by the deployment of IPv6 will be placed in high demand by the increased number of applications and devices operating on third generation mobile networks and peer-to-peer communications over broadband infrastructure.

    "The report recognises that migration from IPv4 to IPv6 should be gradual, with an extended period of co-existence and no fixed switchover date. However, it calls for the need to pick up the pace of change.

    "The report places Japan and the Asia-Pacific region at the forefront of designing and implementing IPv6, with the EU's efforts thus far only marginal. It maintains, however, that with Europe's high penetration of mobile phones, and the ensuing technical expertise and growing market demand for address space, the EU has a unique window of opportunity to grasp the political leadership of the next generation internet and gain significant competitive advantages in global developments.

    "The report makes a number of recommendations to structure, consolidate and integrate EU efforts on IPv6, alongside the continued stimulation of internet take-up across the EU:

  • It calls for Member States to harmonise policy where necessary, strengthen their research effort, encourage migration to IPv6 through public procurement, and launch awareness-raising and educational programmes on the benefits and requirements of IPv6.

  • It also encourages industry to integrate migration into strategic planning, and to support Europe-wide work on standards for interoperability.

  • In turn, the Commission proposes to increase research funding, promote IPv6 enabled infrastructures, and raise awareness through the 6th Framework Programme."

The Government's view

  14.7  The Minister comments:

    "As the report is non-legislative it does not carry any direct policy implications. However, IPv6 is likely to figure in the eEurope 2005 Action Plan in such a way as to guide Member States' own policy. The UK's position, taking account of continuing consultations with business in the framework of standards-setting and e-Government procurement activities, is that whilst IPv6 is accepted as a future development, the unquantifiable costs of a mandatory upgrade should be avoided. Policy must recognise, as the report does, the leading role of industry in preparations for, and decisions on future migration to IPv6".


  14.8  The Presidency Conclusions from the Barcelona European Council[42] state that further progress is needed on communications and that priority should be given to the development of IPv6. We note that, while the Government agrees about the importance of developing IPv6, it believes that policy on action to be taken must recognise the leading role of industry in preparations for, and decisions on, migration to the new Protocol. Having made that point, the Secretary of State comments that the report takes the same line. It would have been helpful if she had told us whether other Member States were likely to take the same view.

  14.9  The Conclusions also call on the Commission to draw up a comprehensive eEurope 2005 Action Plan to be presented in advance of the Seville European Council, focussing on this and other priorities. We ask the Minister to ensure that we are given an opportunity to scrutinise the draft of the Commission's Action Plan, in good time before the Council.

  14.10  We now clear this document.

37  (21346) 9097/00; see HC 23-xxix (1999-2000), paragraph 45 (15 November 2000). Also (21911) 14203/00 and (22013) 14195/00; see HC 28-v (2000-01), paragraph 18 (7 February 2001) and (23259) 6107/02; see paragraph 13 of this Report. Back

38  (22262) 7183/01: see HC 28-xii (2000-01), paragraph 9 (25 April 2001). Back

39  Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line. This offers high-speed connectivity to the Internet over existing copper telephone wiring. Back

40  Internet Protocol version 4. Back

41  The * symbol is used for multiplication in computer programming. The resulting figure is 34 followed by 37 noughts.  Back

42  SN 100/02, paragraph 40. Back

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