Two months late, but IPv6 for high-end Linksys router arrives

Truth is, Cisco's IPv6 support among the rest of its products remains spotty.

Cisco has finally released IPv6 support as a free firmware upgrade for its flagship Linksys E4200 wireless router. The promised IPv6 support is late, either by two months, or by six months, or by years, depending on how you look at it, but late is better than never.

Here is the link to download it, quietly made available on June 14. (More on that release date in a minute.)

Cisco released the $180 E4200 in January and although competitors like D-Link and Netgear had been supporting IPv6 in their wireless routers for quite some time (D-Link doing a better job of it than most, according to IPv6 experts), Cisco's IPv6 support was completely missing. That was a strange choice for the world's biggest networking company, considering it has been leading the overall charge toward IPv6 adoption for years, at least for service providers.

The $180 E4200 released in January.

In February, I wrote about the missing IPv6 in Cisco's Linksys gear and was told by Cisco that it was coming in April for its high-end E4200. In April, Linksys released a blitz of seven new products, none of them with IPv6 support. Obviously, the firmware upgrade for the high-end E4200 was MIA too. Cisco promised that free firmware upgrades for the rest of the new gear would trickle out through the fall. (See story: Cisco Linksys gear targets boom in home use of 802.11n wireless nets)

There was no word then, and there still isn't any now, if other late-model wireless routers will get a free IPv6 firmware upgrade. Maybe it's not important to most consumers if their pre-2011 home routers get IPv6 or not. Most Network World readers know that they can wipe out the vendor's firmware and install OpenWRT or DD-WRT and get IPv6 that way. That's not a practical task to ask the typical consumer to do, but when consumers get IPv6, it will be part of their consumer premises equipment from their ISPs. Routers that can only handle IPv4 addresses will still be able to access the Internet for years, and perhaps reach new native IPv6 sites, if Carrier Grade NAT can be counted on and if it doesn't cause more problems than it's worth (more on this).

That said, even Cisco's own marketing department agreed that buyers of new network gear should insist on IPv6. A Cisco spokesperson told me in February: "IPv6 is foundational to the next-generation Internet, enabling a range of new services and improved user experiences. As ISPs begin rolling out IPv6 service to their customers, consumers will need new routers and gateways that support IPv6 to participate in this next generation Internet. Later this spring, Cisco will begin enabling IPv6 across its consumer line of routers including the Linksys E4200 Maximum Performance Dual-Band Wireless-N Router. It is critical that consumers begin looking for products and devices that support IPv6. Cisco has been and will continue to be a leader in the development of IPv6 so consumers can feel confident that products from Cisco will provide top-line performance now as well as providing a foundation for the future."

However when network gear makers like Cisco drag their feet on native support for IPv6 in home networking equipment, efforts by ISPs to get their customers IPv6 ready are hampered. (See my story on the topic, IPv6 on home routers and DSL/cable modems: FAIL ) In the gear makers' defense, most have been avidly working to perfect their IPv6 implementations. Plus, at least until World IPv6 Day, not a lot of content was running on native IPv6 anyway. Still, by now, network gear vendors have no excuse for lack of IPv6 support ... it's not like they didn't know it was coming.

Interestingly, Comcast, the ISP running one of the largest IPv6 trials in the U.S., was originally using Linksys routers for the CPE. But they built their own IPv6 firmware to run on it, since Cisco didn't have IPv6 support. Comcast recently expanded their IPv6 test and not surprisingly, chose D-Link for CPE gear.

Source: Comcast

As to the timing of the firmware release. I was asked by Frank Bulk if I had seen the promised April release. I hadn't and neither had he. So, on June 14, I contacted the company and asked. Bulk has been testing CPE devices for his job as technology and product development manager for Premier Communications, an ISP serving northwestern Iowa. (Here's the site where Bulk has been documenting his findings). I was told on June 14 that it wouldn't be ready until later in the month. Perhaps it was coincidence that the firmware was then published the day I asked, perhaps not. I'm glad that Cisco is moving forward, even at a slow pace and even if they are selling brand new products in 2011 that are still lacking IPv6.

Here are the specifics of what Linksys improved for the E4200 with this new firmware, according to Cisco's release notes. Note that the previous firmware had removed IPv6 functionality.

========================================

Last Release Date: June 14, 2011

Last Firmware version: 1.0.02 (build 13) -

- Added support of USB printer connected to the router's USB port, so that a user may send a print job to the printer via the local area network. ** This feature requires Cisco connect software v1.4 or later **

- Added support of Native IPv6 and 6rd tunnel Internet connections

- Added support of bridge mode

- Prevented devices on the guest network to access any private IP address (RFC 1918)

- Updated wireless driver to improve interoperability

- Fixed some storage relative issues

- Fixed some browser-based configuration utility bugs

- Fixed some minor bugs

========================================

Release Date: March 7, 2011

Firmware version: 1.0.01 (build 10)

- Fixed 2.4GHz wireless unstable issue

- Disabled IPv6-to-IPv4 Tunneling feature to improve Interoperability

Truth is, Cisco's IPv6 support among the rest of its gear is still spotty, too. Cisco's ACS, for instance, doesn't support IPv6, although I've been told by company insiders that the next version, being tested now, includes IPv6. Cisco has been mum on the details of when that version will be available to users.

While it sure would help smooth and speed the transition to IPv6 if Cisco could stop dragging its feet, my optimistic hope is that the extra time the network giant is taking means a rock solid IPv6 implementation when it finally does show up.

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