April 06, 2010, 11:17 AM — Verizon appears to be playing catch-up to broadband rival Comcast with its announcement Tuesday of a residential trial of IPv6, a long-anticipated upgrade to the Internet's main communications protocol.
Verizon is testing IPv6 on its all-fiber FiOS network for a month. The trial involves a dozen Verizon employees, who all live in Northern Virginia.
"For FiOS, it's the first [time] we are actually working with IPv6 in the production network," says Jean McManus, executive director of packet network technology for Verizon. She added that Verizon has been experimenting with IPv6 in its lab.
Verizon is running IPv6 on one of its FiOS network edge routers in dual-stack mode, which means IPv6 is running side-by-side with IPv4, the current version of the Internet Protocol. The Reston, Va.-based router involved in the trial is supporting hundreds of FiOS customers with regular IPv4 services at the same time it is supporting a dozen Verizon employees with IPv6 services.
Verizon is using commercially available customer premises equipment from an unnamed vendor in its IPv6 trial. The FiOS network edge router is tunneling the IPv6 traffic inside IPv4 packets for transport over Verizon's Multi MPLS backbone to IPv6-capable peering connections with other carriers.
McManus said it's possible that Verizon would conduct a second trial of IPv6 on the FiOS network depending on the results of this initial test.
"We have thousands of routers, and we can't cut them over instantaneously," McManus says. "The key is when our vendors that are embedded are going to be ready and to what extent do we need to upgrade software or hardware."
Verizon's announcement follows that of Comcast, which was the first broadband ISP in the United States to announce a series of public trials of IPv6 back in January. More than 5,500 residential and commercial Comcast customers across the United States have signed up for Comcast's IPv6 trial.
Comcast is testing several different mechanisms for transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6, including dual-stack mode, a tunneling mechanism known as 6rd, and a scheme for sharing IPv4 addresses among multiple customers known as Dual-Stack Lite.Comcast and Verizon are experimenting with IPv6 because IPv4 is running out of address space. IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices.
Experts predict that the remaining IPv4 addresses will be distributed in 2012. In January, the Regional Internet Registries announced that fewer than 10% of IPv4 addresses remain unallocated.