Decision Time Looms as IPv6 Gets Real

BTR_Feature_Art_IPV6_4_2_13The long - very long - development and implementation of IPv6 is entering a new phase. While the most fundamental architectural issue was decided upon long ago, the industry still faces a great deal of work and a number of smaller but vital choices in actually making the addressing scheme an everyday reality.

The sense is that the industry knows where it is going. "Most of the MSOs we talk to know how and when they will roll out IPv6," said  Keven Adams, the director of CMTS product management for ARRIS (NASDAQ:ARRS). "In most cases, they've known for years when they will encounter IPv4 exhaustion and have had plenty of time to think about it. Based on our experience, they know when they need to have it running."

The industry will use a technique known as dual stack. As the name implies, dual stack focuses on running IPv4 and IPv6 side by side. Indeed, though IPv6 is the way of the future, IPv4 will be with us for years and perhaps decades. Experts consider dual stack the simplest and most direct approach.

Now that dual stack is the established path for North American operators, a host of subsidiary issues - which will be discussed in this story and in a feature scheduled for April 10 - come to the forefront. The good news, at the high level, is that the Y2K-like fear of IPv6 is a thing of the past. More than one insider contacted for this report said, in almost precisely the same language, that operators simply are no longer intimidated. "It does seem like operators know their plans," Adams said. "Now there is less fear around the issue."

Real and substantial progress clearly has been made. Stephane Bourque, the CEO and president of Incognito Software, wrote in response to emailed questions that the industry in the past year has taken the vital step of moving from the labs to deployments, albeit on a limited basis. "What was a massive experiment with a steep learning curve now seems a bit more natural and less frightening," he wrote.

It is well-known that Comcast and Rogers, and perhaps a couple more of the top MSOs, have led the way. The industry is approaching a transition point: The pressure will shift more fully to players whose strategy was to rely on others.

The questions that now are in play are operator-specific. The problem for some operators will be that the specifics of their networks will be significantly different than the operators at the forefront of the drive to develop IPv6. Ciprian "Chip" Popoviciu, the president and CEO of Nephos6, a company that helps enterprises and service providers implement cloud and IPv6 technology, suggests that a day of reckoning may be close at hand for operators who have relied too much on others.

There are several areas in which the strategy of riding on other operators' coattails will hit a brick wall. There are architectural differences that will make it impossible for an operator to rely solely on what it learns from Comast or others, no matter how willing to help they are. There also are the intricacies on the hardware side: Suppose an operator has a great number of cable modems in the field. There is no guarantee that each of those can support IPv6. Suddenly, the company would need to become expert in certifications and related procedures.

Things also may be slanted toward the bigger operators. Rogers, Comcast and a small handful of others were at the forefront of IPv6 development. It is natural that the details of both the network hardware and software and test and measurement equipment aimed at keeping it running smoothly will be heavily influenced by the design priorities of those operators. This will leave MSOs without a deep background left to choose from devices that were not necessarily designed to specifications that precisely fit their needs.

The die may be cast for operators who haven’t focused on IPv6 to have trouble, Popoviciu said. "There is this whole discussion of early vs. late adopters. The late adopters said, 'We can wait and adopt IPv6 and let others cut their teeth,' but that will not work in today's IP world. Each service provider has its own different ways of doing things. Now is when the rubber meets the road."

The bottom line is that a lot of the major drama surrounding IPv6 is over: The industry "gets it" and understands at the highest level the way forward. However, the lack of drama doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of hard work and potential problems ahead. Next week, we'll take a look at some of the difficult decisions that must be made.

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report. Contact him at carl@btreport.net.

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