Will Overlay Network be the next End-to-End paradigm?

I met fellow technologist from a major handphone manufacturer several of weeks ago. We have a long and interesting conversation but one thing stick out even now on my mind. It goes some thing like this:

Him: We forsee our phones will evolve into an all-IP device, one that hooks up not only to GSM, 3G, but also wifi, wimax etc.

Me: That nice. So what’s your plan on IPv6?

Him: No, we have no plan on IPv6?

Me: (privately: Huh?) Why?

Him: Overlay Network.

Now, I am a believer in End-to-End and to me, as IP profilterate to every known devices, eventually we will run out of IPv4 so migration to IPv6 is a question of when not why.

But before this conversation, I never considered overlay network as a competitor to IPv6. In someways, it is even ridiculous, an irony considered IP is designed to be preciesly an “overlay network” over the array of telcos infrastructure of ATM, leaseline, dialup etc. So why would you want to put an overlay network over an overlay network?1But as I think further last few weeks, he might have a point. The Internet today is no longer the end-to-end network we original envision. Thanks to NAT, firewalls and private IP address, writing an applications today for IP network for end-to-end communication requires a lot of tweaks and hacks, and eventually some sort of overlay network. The most popular applications in the last few years, such as Napster, Kazza and Skype all have ways to ‘overcome the NAT’ or ‘bypass the firewall’ in order to achieve end-to-end.

This is not to say we haven’t try IPv6 – we did this with the (now defunct) social tool threedegrees (by Microsoft) – great idea, great technology using IPv6 and I love it, except one point: the forum are filled with questions about how to enable IPv6 and less about using the application itself. And that’s wrong: for technology to take off, it has to be transparent, that people are using it without knowing they are using it.

Anyway, the verdict is not yet out but for now, I think I am changing my position on IPv6 from not why but when to let’s see. And I may need to spend a bit more time watching Planet Labs. They might be onto something.

1 I suppose it makes as much sense as “run voice over ip over voice network” but hey, we are doing that right now!

Back To Top