IPv6 on Home Routers: FAIL

When it comes to IPv6 support, consumer home networking gear lags far behind other devices, like enterprise equipment and PC operating systems. Most devices certified as IPv6-compliant by the IPv6 Forum are full of implementation bugs, experts say.

LAGGING: Cisco routers still don't support IPv6

Consumer electronics vendors have procrastinated in providing IPv6 support for a long time, says Frank Bulk, who has been testing devices for his job as technology and product development manager for Premier Communications, an ISP serving northwestern Iowa. "Some vendors point out that the 'IPv6 CE router requirements' IETF draft is only now working through the final stages of the standards process and that the Broadband Forum documents were completed only a few months ago. But I've been working with the D-Link product manager for the last five months. If one vendor can do an adequate job of IPv6, why can't its competitors?"

If there is a bright side, home equipment vendors are aware they are an adoption bottleneck and are working to fix the problems, some more feverishly than others. The University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab held an IPv6 consumer electronics Plugfest on Feb. 14, and CableLabs has stepped up to organize two more this year in April and September in Denver. While the UNH-IOL and CableLabs are typically tight-lipped about Plugfest results, a white paper will be published to those on the V6ops IETF mail server.

But equipment makers don't have an endless supply of time to get it right. IPv4 depletion for U.S. companies is fully expected to occur in 2011. ARIN says it has around 80 million IPv4 addresses left and expects to run out of these addresses within nine months. We will soon see a day when new computers, servers, mobile devices and the so-called Internet of Things can only get an IPv6 address. Carrier-grade NAT (CGN, also known as large-scale NAT) will suffice as a stopgap measure, but it comes with its own set of problems.

"I am not a big fan of carrier-grade network address translation. Part of the reason is the whole notion of network address translation is brittle and it doesn't permit servers to be available on the consumer premises," Vint Cerf, chief Internet evangelist for Google, told Network World in a recent interview. "But it may turn out that NATs are needed in order to facilitate the transition during this period when we have to run both protocols."

Adds IPv6 expert Jeff Doyle, "Large-Scale NAT will help in some ways, but hurt in others. LSN solutions can be a liability for content providers" (more on this).

LSN contrasts with the ideal solution: to move all devices to using native IPv6 as quickly as reasonably possible -- not tunneled, not translated, but native. That's difficult to do when it's 2011 and customer premises equipment (CPE) and consumer networking gear don't yet properly support IPv6.

Some, such as Cisco's Linksys consumer routers, don't have IPv6 yet at all, although Cisco has promised to add IPv6 to its new routers by mid-2011. (Ironically, Cisco is otherwise ears-deep in the Plugfests, supplying a DHCPv4/DHCPv6 server for the tests.) A Cisco spokesperson confirmed, "Linksys routers being launched this spring will have IPv6 support -- also the E4200 we launched in January will have a firmware upgrade planned for April."

Illustration: Jack Gallagher
However, Cisco isn't sure yet if routers bought prior to 2011 will get IPv6. "We are currently looking into which 'legacy' Linksys product can support IPv6. (There are many things that influence us being able to do it -- including if there is enough memory, as well as other factors.) The engineer teams are working on that," the spokesperson said.

Network professionals are comfortable with "rooting" their home networking gear and can always wipe out the vendor's firmware and install OpenWRT or DD-WRT. But that's not the kind of task an average consumer can or will do, nor is it a saleable tactic for an ISP to recommend and support.

ISPs, in particular, are in a bind. To date, residential ISPs running IPv6 trials have provided the customer router. Service providers offering IPv6 expect that through 2012 they will need to, at the very least, provide customers a short list of tested routers and configuration instructions, Premier Communications' Bulk says. "It's the desire of service providers that big box electronic stores be able to point customers to boxes with 'IPv6-ready' logos. The Wi-Fi Alliance has done a great job in communicating to customers which wireless products will work well -- it's an open question at this time if the IPv6 Forum will be able to replicate that with IPv6."

With the exception of some products by D-Link and Apple's AirPort Express and AirPort Extreme, none of today's CPE can operate using IPv6 well enough for a field test trial, Bulk says.

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