IP protocols/software

IPv6 CPE Software: Custom or Off-the-Shelf?

As IPv6-capable customer premises equipment (CPE) starts appearing in significant numbers of homes across the world in 2011, there will be an interesting mix of bespoke-developed software and industry-standard Linux software. Some CPE vendors are opting to deploy "commodity" IPv6 software in their equipment, while the upper layers of the equipment software stack represent important product differentiators for others.

Vendors such as AVM GmbH , Pace plc , Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH) and ZyXEL Communications Corp. claim that their custom-developed, higher-layer software has advantages, such as making the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 easier for the user -- something likely to be a major concern to service providers that will be nervous about making the switch. Anything that makes the process less risky will be valued.

Those that have developed their own IPv6 stack also claim that interworking with service providers' management systems can be enhanced through bespoke stacks, and that v6 functionality can be better tailored to the requirements of CPE. The Linux stack, they argue, was developed for other network elements and equipment and does not provide CPE-specific functions.

Those CPE vendors that have opted for Linux IPv6 software, such as D-Link Systems Inc. , Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) and Netgear Inc. (Nasdaq: NTGR), argue that the stack is proven in networks. It is also likely to be cheaper, and since operators will be looking to minimize the cost of any transition from IPv4 networks and services to IPv6, this is likely to be an important consideration. Some vendors prefer to concentrate differentiation efforts elsewhere -- not on the software stack within the CPE -- so self-development was not an option for them.

The fact is, though, that while the transition to IPv6 appears to offer CPE vendors an opportunity to expand their market share through the provision of new kit capable of supporting operators' different approaches to the v4-v6 transition, those operators will look first to their existing suppliers to help them manage the transition as cheaply and efficiently as possible. Perhaps half of existing deployed consumer CPE is remotely upgradeable to support IPv6. (Many of the biggest vendors have v6-capable firmware in place and are ready to release it, or will be during this year.) Swapping out the other half of installed CPE (typically modem/routers supporting basic ADSL services) may present an opportunity for vendors to capture new service provider customers, but whether those customers will want the best integration capabilities or the lowest bill of materials will vary greatly.

The latest Heavy Reading Insider, "Residential CPE Vendors Gear Up for IPv6," looks at how operators are responding to the drivers of change to IPv6, and how they are asking for help from their suppliers of CPE. It reviews the options for managing the transition (with a focus on DSL rather than cable networks), including the use of techniques to prolong the life of IPv4, and tunneling IPv6 traffic through IPv4 networks and vice versa. It reviews the way that CPE vendors are building IPv6 capabilities into their equipment, and compares their approaches. Finally, it profiles eight of the leading vendors of IPv6-capable CPE.

— Danny Dicks, Analyst, Heavy Reading Insider

Residential CPE Vendors Gear Up for IPv6, a 15-page report, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Heavy Reading Insider, priced at $1,595. This report is available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/insider.

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