IPv6's next transition challenge: The broadband home network

Sean Buckley, FierceTelecomWhile there's clearly a call to action for service providers, web application providers and even businesses to make sure they have an IPv6 transition in place, the other true test of how much impact IPv6 will have on the state of the Internet will be at the consumer level.

I was reminded of this theme when I visited the University of New Hampshire-Interoperability Lab (UNH-IOL) earlier this week, which recently held an IPv6 interoperability testing event in which home networking vendors targeting the cable industry participated.

During the networking gateway interoperability event, a number of cable-focused home networking/gateway vendors checked their readiness for IPv6 in home networking equipment. The event focused on how cable operators and CPE vendors can create solutions to interoperability challenges that could arise in broadband networks--an area that has not seen wide scale deployments of IPv6 yet.

Timothy Winters, senior manager for the UNH-IOL said that "the problem with deploying IPv6 is not that they don't want to do it, but it's that they can't get products into the home and last week's event was a good commentary on that."   

Much like Y2K transition, the movement to IPv6 addressing is really all about preparation. A growing number of broadband gateway vendors are also aggressively integrating IPv6 capabilities into their respective product sets.

Take home networking and last mile vendor ZyXel. Although the threat of IPv4 address depletion really took until 2010 to happen, ZyXEL decided proactively add IPv6 capabilities into its home networking gear back in 2006.

"We've seen this coming for many years, and tried to make sure our products were at least--we had the software stacks included on our own products as need be for customers to pick it up," said David Thompson, product marketing director for ZyXEL.

Just the same, broadband service providers are also taking action with various trials.

Verizon, for one, last April conducted an IPv6 trial on their FiOS network in Reston, Va. During that trial, the service provider equipped trial homes with a specially-designed dual stack IPv4/IPv6 CPE.

Jean McManus, executive director, packet network technology for Verizon, said in a previous interview with FierceTelecom that the initial goal of the current trial is to help Verizon "get a better understanding of dual stack, how it performs based on our embedded supplier and also have the opportunity to work with dual stack CPE."  

For large carriers like Verizon, the key to a successful transition will be in creating a joint transition path with their respective modem and home networking gateway that ensures its customer's Internet service is not interrupted during the transition.

Programs like UNH-IOL's cable modem/gateway event are obviously one example of making that transition a success for broadband service providers.

"What we're working toward on this program is that we're trying to help these box devices get a certified IPv6 logo for their products, meaning that if a consumer goes to Best Buy and buys a device it will work and it won't blow up on them," Winters said. "We're just talking about IPv6 connectivity and we're not getting into security and all the other things yet."

Being IPv6-capable is not just about traditional CPE that the cable operator or telco provides to the consumer, it's also about the growing bevy of devices (gaming consoles, security alarms, etc.) that the everyday user is going to purchase from their local electronic store. The expectation there is they take home the device, plug it in and it works.--Sean