Most IPv6-certified home network gear is frightfully buggy

The University of New Hampshire InterOperability Lab held an IPv6 consumer electronics Plugfest a couple of weeks ago and CableLabs has scheduled two more for this year. The Lab is tight-lipped about the results, but the sad fact is that most home routers and DSL/cable modems certified as IPv6-compliant by the IPv6 Forum are so full of implementation bugs that they can't be used by ISPs for IPv6 field trials, some ISPs are reporting. And that's not helping the Internet have a smooth, fast transition to IPv6.

READ MORE: IPv6 on home routers and DSL/cable modems: FAIL

Though OpenWRT and DD-WRT solve the problem, ISPs point out that requiring the average consumer to upgrade their own firmware because the manufacturer can't do IPv6 right isn't a practical solution.

It's shameful that network gear makers still can't get IPv6 right on home routers, DSL/cable modems, especially given that segments like desktop operating systems have had IPv6 for years. Last month, I wrote about how Cisco's Linksys consumer routers, don't have IPv6 yet at all, although the company has promised to add it at least to its brand new 2011 model routers by the spring. I've pressed Cisco for details on if any routers bought before 2011 will get a firmware upgrade ... and so far the answer has been that the company doesn't know. Engineers are looking into which models have the memory and hardware requirements.

Linksys E4200

Cisco promises it will add IPv6 support to the new Linksys E4200 released in January

While its true that the IETF draft for IPv6 CE routers is only now working through the final stages of the standards process, when has a slow-moving IETF standard ever stopped the industry from plowing ahead with implementations?

I don't expect Cisco to support my home Linksys router, which I bought seven years ago, with new firmware (though it sure would enhance my loyalty to Linksys if it did). But what about someone who bought a high-end one for the 2010 holidays? I sure hope they won't be expected to ditch it and get a new one in a year or two, if they change ISPs and can't get an IPv4 address from their new service provider. Interestingly, Cisco is ears-deep in the Plugfests, supplying a DHCPv4/DHCPv6 server for the tests and being applauded for their generous support.

Let's hope that Cisco's soon-to-come home network IPv6 is performing better than others that have managed to achieve the IPv6 Forum's stamp of approval, such as Netgear or ZyXEL. Both of those devices IPv6 implementations are too buggy to use in at least one ISP's IPv6 field tests, I've been told.

Frank Bulk has tested a broad range of consumer routers, cable/DSL modems for his job as technology and product development manager for Premier Communications, an ISP serving northwestern Iowa. "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," he said.

One reader e-mailed me to say that he thinks the transition to IPv6 is akin to Y2K. "I've been following this since the mid 90's when discussions around IPv6 began.  As a past Y2K program manager, the impact on the global enterprise and home users will be as significant if not approached methodically as was done for Y2K," he said.

That may be true ... the heavy lifting on the backend by IT professionals will prevent a meltdown. It also means that a "sky-is-falling" attitude about IPv6 could come to be considered as over-hyped as it was for Y2K.

To be clear. I am NOT saying that lacking, buggy or broken IPv6 in home gear being sold in 2011 is going to bring down the Internet or cause mayhem and riots. Most homes have an IPv4 address and can continue to use NAT for years, even as they add Internet TVs and tablets and electronic picture frames. It's just odd, don't you think, that networking gear vendors -- of all electronics segments -- have treated IPv6 as an afterthought while the last IPv4 blocks dwindled and dried up?

It is sad, too, that IPv6 support is being mostly rolled out in vendors' high-end gear ... as if the ability to get an IP address should be treated as some kind of fancy feature. (Yes, it also costs the vendors' more to increase the unit's memory.)

Bulk calls out D-Link as a shining example of doing IPv6 right. He says that, not only do D-Link's products do IPv6 well, its older and inexpensive product implementations do, too. And D-Link has been promising that it will add IPv6 support (with stateful firewall) on gear less that sells for than $60 this year.

"If one vendor can do an adequate job of IPv6, why can't its competitors?" he says. I couldn't agree more.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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