How IPv6 will heal the digital divide and reduce global energy usage

Can IPv6 change the world? Reduce excessive energy consumption? Spend a little time chatting with IPv6 champion extraordinaire Geof Lambert and you will soon be convinced it can.

Geof Lambert
Lambert, an executive recruiter by trade, has always had a love of technology. He combined that with his philanthropic leanings to become one of the best–known advocates of IPv6 as a tool for ending the digital divide. As examples, he points to exciting IPv6 projects such as, that give users command and control to multiple streams of live video and audio over the Internet; and the Green Protocol Working Group that aims to reduce worldwide energy consumption.

We won't list all of the volunteer organizations to which Lambert belongs. (Click here for a list.) But the short version is that he is on the Steering Committee of the North American IPv6 Task Force, chairman of the California IPv6 Task Force and acts as an advisor to startups and volunteer organizations trying to gap the digital divide. Most of his furious volunteer work has been done with the goal of bringing affordable, secure, broadband Internet connectivity to the hands of all of the world's 6.5 billion people, not just the privileged few.

Microsoft Subnet recently caught up with Lambert to get his views on everything from cool new applications for IPv6 to the new Obama administration. Here is an edited transcript of the interview. (Off-topic warning: This blog post discusses IPv6 generally, and not just Microsoft's implementation of it.)

Microsoft Subnet: Hello Geof, thanks for joining me today.

Geof Lambert: Hi. Would you like a quick five minute tour of the world's first web-based IPv6 application? Go to this address (See photo below.) This is a site created by a company called Piano Networks that was launched publicly in the past few months. It is an offshoot of DoD research and the technology that makes it work was years in research and development. What you are seeing has never been done before, multiple live streams simultaneously on a single Web page. The underlying technology that makes this all work is IPv6. It is assigning every object connected to the network (a webcam) its own permanent static IP address.

And if your screen and bandwidth was big enough you could literally put a million screens up. The technology is there, though you'd probably run into bandwidth problems. This is one of reasons the presidential election was so important. ISPs say, "Hey we have lots of bandwidth to go around and nobody uses it." In my opinion it's like they are saying: "Oh we have plenty of food....for the country." But what they don't tell you is that are going to give everybody one slice of bread per day to eat. Sure, everybody has food but how much? But I think the new administration will "get it."

Do you have your speaker on?

Microsoft Subnet: Yes, on, I can hear a ball game ...

Geof Lambert: That is like a free Webex and all other collaboration stuff rolled into one and it can be done on an smartphone like an iPhone if the bandwidth would permit it. For disclosure purposes, I am an advisor to Piano Networks so I do have a very (very) minimal financial interest. I know the founders and the team. But I advocate it in the interest of further adoption of IPv6. I am the first person in the world to have my own personal "Vidder page" and I can control what's on it and talk via the mic. Keep in mind, this is all "free" stuff, much like a Google search, MySpace, etc. It's a very disruptive technology, once people figure it all out. The DoD spends millions of dollars in command and control stations to get this same kind of technology. Now it is all online and free thanks to IPv6.

Microsoft Subnet: Cool stuff, Geof. What are your favorite Internet/IPv6 related causes at the moment and why?

Geof Lambert: One would be the Green Protocol Working Group, another is SolarNetOne and then there is the IPv6 Forum at large. But anything that will give sub Sahara Africa kids access to Internet in palm of their hands I am in favor of. The Green Protocol Working Group is an "application" of the New Internet based on IPv6 to reduce the global demand for energy. Imagine if every light bulb and electric socket could tell you exactly how much energy is is using and you can control and visibly see that information from anywhere in the world just by going to a Web site. And you can turn things off and on remotely, etc. It is a true convergence of the power grid and the Internet. How cool is that? How much money and energy would we save? Quite a bit.

Microsoft Subnet: Very cool. So what's SolarNetOne?

Geof Lambert: Well SolarNetOne is all about getting the Internet into the remotest places of the world .. .for very low cost and power consumption.  It can be set up where there is no existing wired electricity and/or telephone.

Microsoft Subnet: From looking at the project's Web site, it looks as if it creates solar powered WiFi hot spots that connect to each other with similarly powered wireless repeaters and that it's an effort that spans continents and organizations. Very interesting. Your feverish level of work seems to be driven by an underlying cause – affordable (even free) Internet for all – and based on IPv6. Why do you want to see universal Internet access?

Geof Lambert: Because information is the "fire" of the Information Age and we now live in the Information Age and I think as human beings we are doing a great disservice to the world by not letting everybody have it. I don't mean to sound "corny" and too ultraistic, but I do believe in human equality and am convinced that hundreds of years from now historians will look back at the late 1990's and early 2000's in the same light that we look back at the late 1700's early 1800's when the president of the U.S. bought and sold other human beings to saddle his horses and bake his bread … how wrong is that? How wrong is it that only 15 to 20% of the world has access to the Internet? Just as wrong in my humble opinion and that's why I do what I do. Does it make me money? Of course not. But I sincerely believe that everybody in the world should have free Internet.

Microsoft Subnet: Yeah, I have my own set of crazy ideals surrounding world peace, improvement of conditions for women, children and others in certain parts of the world and the use of technology. How has the election of Barack Obama (and the Democrats' control of congress) affected your view on the future of the Internet? 

Geof Lambert: I am pretty apathetic about politics in general but it is true that the system needs to be changed for true prosperity and equality to happen. Look at all the local elections, from "dog catchers" on up. All other things equal, the candidate that effectively used the Internet won the race and those that didn't, lost. For my part, I didn't vote for a candidate. I voted for net neutrality and the Internet and a Commander in Chief - a "CEO" of the U.S. - who can use e-mail, the Web, Facebook, etc., and who has two "digital native" children. So I believe that Obama sees wisdom in bringing not just the Internet, but high quality Internet access, to the hands of as many people as possible.

Microsoft Subnet: Worldwide ISPs are already cutting over to IPv6 in some degree or another, right? So it's now a matter of corporate networks and consumer devices needing to support it. And that will happen automatically as they buy new devices (any PC you buy today already supports IPv6, for instance, same as smartphones). So what do you see as the barrier?

Geof Lambert: Your theory is exactly correct about adoption in general being supported by the hardware but if I wanted to use native IPv6 right now I can't. I have three ISPs today in the life of Geof Lambert. My Verizon smartphone device could do IPv6. But Verzion wireless does not. My mobile card for Sprint in my ASUS G1 laptop runs IPv6 and the laptop runs Vista but Sprint wireless doesn't support it. My 7-year-old laptop -- an old IBM ThinkPad that I probably couldn't sell on Craigslist for $50 -- it has XP so even it could do IPv6, but it CAN'T because it is hooked up to Comcast.

Microsoft Subnet: So your point is that the carriers are slowing down the transistion IPv6, even though the devices can support it.

Geof Lambert: As a business person, ok, sure I can see their conceptual argument that it is going to cost them money in the short term. Unfortunately in the case of the Internet we all pay the price in opportunity cost by delaying the transition to IPv6. So I say, let's start today making a swift and orderly transition to IPv6 and into a worldwide Information Age.

Vidder broadcasts four live streaming videos at once for people with accounts.  

Visit the Microsoft Subnet web site for more news, blogs, podcasts. Also see:

Microsoft both leads and lags in IPv6 support10 questions for Small Business Server/Essential Business Server guy, Russ Madlener7 Keys to cleaning up Windows with Windows 717 job-hunting resources for Windows prosGlenn Weadock on Windows Server 2008Library of Windows management tools from A Better Windows Worldall Microsoft Subnet Microsoft newsletter. (Click on News/Microsoft News Alert.)

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