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Comcast is first U.S. ISP to offer IPv6 to home gateway users

New service shows how home gateway vendors are improving support for next-gen Internet

By , Network World
April 12, 2012 02:55 PM ET

Network World - DENVER - Comcast has moved into the next phase of its IPv6 roll-out, becoming the first U.S. broadband ISP to enable next-gen Internet services for residential customers that use home gateways.

Comcast plans to announce its IPv6 service for home gateway users later this month, but company officials released a few details about this service at the North American IPv6 Summit held here this week.

John Brzozowski, chief architect for IPv6 and distinguished engineer with Comcast, said IPv6 service was already available to home gateway users in two U.S. cities. The service is available for residential customers that use one of six home gateways, which are specific IPv6-enabled models from D-Link, Linksys and Netgear that are listed at this Web site.

"When we launch this service in an area, we are instantly seeing IPv6 traffic among home networking users that have IPv6 turned on by default," Brzozowski said.

MORE: Comcast expands IPv6 into four more states

Comcast is providing home networking users with what's called dual-stack service, which includes support for native IPv6 as well as the current version of the Internet Protocol, dubbed IPv4.

"With our customer home networking service, you take your home router of some variety, plug it into the back of our cable modem, and now you have IPv6 in your home," Brzozowski explained. "On any device - your iPad, your Mac, your tablet - you now have native dual-stack service to the Internet."

IPv6 is a looming upgrade to IPv4, the Internet's main communications protocol.

IPv6 is needed because IPv4 is running out of addresses to connect new users and new devices to the Internet. IPv6 solves this problem with a vastly expanded address space, but it is not backwards-compatible with IPv4. So ISPs like Comcast have to upgrade their routing, edge, security, network management and customer premises equipment (CPE) to support IPv6. The alternative is for carriers to translate between IPv4 and IPv6 addresses, which adds latency and cost to network operations.

Upgrading a network as large as Comcast's to support IPv6 is "non trivial," Brzozowski says.

Comcast has been working on its IPv6 deployment for seven years, starting with the ability to manage its own network devices using IPv6, then migrating the company's internal network to IPv6, and now deploying IPv6 to all of its residential customers in a seamless, non-disruptive manner.

Comcast says its entire network will support IPv6 by the end of 2012.

"What we're really talking about is enabling high-speed data," Brzozowski says. "We've made sure that everything we designed, developed and deployed could support IPv6 at scale. Everything had to be the same with IPv6 as with IPv4. We couldn't put IPv6 in our customers' hands that was below par."

BACKGROUND: IPv6 due for wide deployment in 2012, experts say

Comcast's IPv6 service for home networking users is the latest in a series of IPv6-related announcements that the company has made in the last five months.

In a somewhat controversial move, Comcast is giving each of its home networking users what's called a /64 block of IPv6 addresses, which represents more than 18 quintillion IPv6 addresses or 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 to be exact. This is a massive amount of IP addresses for techies to ponder given how long they've functioned in the address-constrained mode of IPv4.

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