Packeteer is firing the next generation Internet into space with a satellite comms update that expands boxes to include IPv6.

The company claimed this means enterprise - or should that be Enterprise? - and government users will no longer be restricted to IPv4 if they want to get the most out of their satellite bandwidth.

The software update is for the SkyX range of devices from Packeteer subsidiary Mentat, and adds support for the Space Communications Protocol family of standards (SCPS) over IPv6.

SCPS is used by the US military and others, and is designed to make a space vehicle look like any other node on the Internet, though whether this means you'll be able to Ping them is unclear.

Satellite links are a particular problem for TCP/IP traffic because of their long latency - half a second for a round trip - and high error rates. The acknowledgement packets take so long that TCP can never fully open the transmit window, and as a result it can never use the full bandwidth of the link.

"The bigger the link, the less tolerance to latency there is," said Packeteer product line manager Mark Urban. "If you don't accelerate over a satellite link, the flows can't ramp well and they don't get the bandwidth they need to perform well. It's a function of the latency and how TCP works."

Mentat solves the problem by replacing TCP over the sat link with its own protocol called XTP. However, this still sits upon IP, hence the need for IPv6 support, with its larger packets and different addressing. Without this, the SkyX device would be unable to convert IPv6 packets to XTP and they would not be accelerated.

Packeteer acquired Mentat late last year, and is in the process of porting SkyX to its own PacketShaper WAN acceleration boxes - at present, these only deal with traffic shaping and compression, but the Mentat software will add the ability to adjust window sizes and improve latency. This will allow the company to better compete with the likes of Peribit and Expand, which can already address latency problems.

Mark Urban said SkyX will be running on PacketShaper in six months' time. He added that the combination of protocol optimisation and data compression can improve the performance of a sat link by a factor of five to 10 times.

"A Mentat 10Mbit box is $5,000 - you need one each end of the link - and a 10Mbit sat link costs about that much per month, so it's a short rerturn on investment," he said.