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Cable/Video

ISPs Might Not Solve Consumer IPv6 Issues

Customer support lines will be ringing at broadband ISPs on World IPv6 Day this Wednesday, June 8, but consumers calling to question bad connections may not get all the help they want.

That's because many of the "broken" IPv6 links that will be revealed when popular websites such as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) turn up IPv6 content for a one-day test are the result of misconfigured customer premises equipment such as home gateways or routers, according to Tim Winters, senior manager of the University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory (IOL) .

"There are routers out there that do IPv6 badly," Winters says. For the most part, this is equipment purchased from retail outlets and not provided by ISPs, he adds.

UNH-IOL got involved to help broadband ISPs by creating a list of routers and firmware upgrades that are IPv6 capable and compliant, so that they can assess consumer problems when the calls start to come in. If the consumer's router isn't on the acceptable list, chances are that's the source of the problem, Winters says. (See UNH-IOL Touts IPv6 for Consumers.)

The most common issues for these routers are faulty default settings for things such as IPv6-to-IPv4 conversion. When suddenly encountering IPv6 content on the Internet, a misconfigured router won't be able to connect. And when a consumer spends three minutes trying to reach Google and can't, that's when they will pick up the phone and call their ISP.

Depending on the situation, there's a good chance the ISP won't be able to help, other than to advise the consumer to turn off the IPv6 connection at the host.

"We have distributed collateral to our customer care centers and prepared them for this, but there is a limited amount of troubleshooting we can do with them. If it's a complex problem, we'll have to tell them to call the manufacturer," says Richard Von Scherr, director of systems integration at Cox Business, a unit of Cox Communications Inc. that has prepared its CSRs to handle a higher volume of calls on World IPv6 Day.

For consumers using only equipment provided by their cable modem or DSL provider, there shouldn't be significant IPv6 issues.

"Our overarching goal is that for our end customers and consumers, this is a non-event," says Pieter Poll, former CTO of Qwest and now senior vice president of national network services at CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL).

Service providers are also expecting there will be things that go wrong, from which they need to learn.

"It's a matter of you don't know what you don't know," Poll says. "We're hoping to learn what aspects of this switch are challenging. It may not just be network connections but integration to various endpoints and applications. We'd like to get an early heads-up that we may have issues."

Working ahead of time, Cox Business got several customers -- American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) , FastQ Communications, InsureMyTrip, Jefferson Lab, Kwikom, Login and Promptlink -- to agree to access multiple sites using IPv6 to test their applications on Wednesday. Those offering consumer services will get a good idea how their customers are doing as well, says Von Scherr.

"They have all done preparatory work, and some of them will have IPv6 sites up and running," he says. "What we are asking them to do is keep a catalog of the behaviors of the Internet -- the latency they are seeing that they didn't see in IPv4 and whether there's an impact on certain types of content, such as JavaScript errors or Flash problems, plug-ins that might not lend themselves well to IPv6." The broadband industry is also working, through the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) , Cable Labs, the Broadband Forum and other groups, to improve the IPv6 functionality of home routers, and to make sure that cable and telecom service providers have the gear to provide native IPv6 service, since that's what's coming once the IPv4 numbers exhaust, which is expected in North America either late this year or in 2012.

World IPv6 Day will also answer another nagging question around IPv6: Whether older intrusion prevention and intrusion detection systems work in the IPv6 world, or whether some enterprises will "see traffic going to and from YouTube that they didn't expect," Winters says.

There also are differences in the way IPv4 and IPv6 handle packet fragmentation. In IPv4, routers can fragment IP packets that exceed the Maximum Transmission Unit for the next router hop, but in IPv6, routers don't fragment packets.

"One of the things we're going to see is what happens to these packets -- if they disappear or if they wind up going to the wrong place," Winters says.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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