IPv6 Makes Itself at Home

Smart Home: Connecting the Subnets The home is getting to be a crowded place. There are or soon will be entertainment networks and sensor networks controlling home automation, home security, remote health monitoring and a host of other specialized activities.

This is a challenge and an opportunity for the cable operators. The existence of so many contiguous networks is inefficient if they ignore each other. Conversely, finding a way for these subnets to work in concert can provide MSOs with two things: New and potentially great revenue streams and an opportunity to more deeply interact with subscribers. 

The industry that controls this element of the home network is in great position, experts say. “From a high level, the point here this that this is a huge opportunity for MSOs in particular,” said Chip Popoviciu, the president and CEO of Nephos6. “If they play this right, they can perform the role of the quarterback for the entire home, a quarterback that allows the MSO to offer more and more interesting services.”

Of course, there are a number of service providers who want to play this role. It is not suprising, however, that the cable industry is particularly well-positioned. “One of the big advantages cable operators have is the medium they are using. Coax is the cleanest medium,” said Purva Rajkotia, the chairman of the IEEE 1905.1, which is  an effort to create a convergent digital home network layer.

The connective tissue of these networks will be IPv6. Until now, the news about the advanced addressing scheme was in the wide-area network (WAN). It is no less valuable in the home. The basic value of IPv6 is that it radically increases the number of Internet addresses to the point that they essentially are limitless.

But the home is beckoning. John Brzozowski, a Fellow and Chief IPv6 Architect for Comcast Cable (NASDAQ:CSCO) – which announced this week that its network is 100 IPv6 capable--agreed that the cable industry has an opportunity to further its strategic goals by managing the home networks via IPv6. Those tools, he said, simply aren’t available in legacy IPv4 world. “IPv4 was the ‘experimental’ version of the Internet,” Brzozowski said. “IPv6 is the way it is supposed to be.”

Since each home can have as many unique addresses as is needed, there is nothing stopping each device from directly communicating with the organization - be it the power company or a health care facility. Or - if the industry takes advantage of the opportunity Popoviciu suggests - the subscriber can let the cable industry and the gateway it deploys in the home play a dual role: Keep the traffic moving smartly between and managing the connectivity with those outside entities. 

The challenge is that the implementation of IPv6 within the home is a tremendous change. Charlie Cerino, the president of the Multimedia Over Coax Alliance (MoCA), pointed out that the use of IPv6 in the home could obviate the need for many router functions -- or the router altogether. This could create an environment in which every IPv6-enabled device in the home is visible to the entire Internet. That may not be something that all operators - or subscribers - want to do. 

IPv6 is the great equalizer in a home, and it can equally serve support wired and wireless networks. The gateway, in such a scenario, serves the function of discovering devices and provisioning them. It also serves as a policy engine: If, for instance, health data in the home is being trafficked to the doctor, a heightened level of security may be applied than if the refrigerator is reporting to the manufacturer that a belt is wearing thin. This quarterbacking function can be handled at the gateway - and can let the cable operator create a relationship that is far deeper than any it has had in the past. 

Popoviciu said the cable industry - in particular, Comcast and Cisco - are putting a good deal of money and work into HomeNet, an effort to figure out how to mediate home networks. Some operators still are not actively pursuing these opportunities, however. Popoviciu said the less proactive operators still are using workarounds to avoid dealing directly with the challenges of IPv6.  

Efforts are ongoing on a number of different levels. Earlier this month, for instance, a new initiative was announced that is aimed at making home networks into meshes that can support multiple devices and interfaces and do not go down if a single device fails. Founding members of The Thread Group are Yale Security, Silicon Labs, Samsung, Nest Labs (which is owned by Google), Freescale Semiconductor, ARM and Big Ass Fans

Chris Boross, the president of The Thread Group and a technical product marketing manager at Nest, said that so far no cable operators have joined. He would welcome their participation, he said. He said the effort is focused around IPv6. “The Comcasts and Time Warner Cables of the world provide tens of millions of homes with Internet connectivity and Thread is targeting the home,” Boross said. “There are huge synergies.”

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