Comcast: 50 percent of our traffic will be IPv6-enabled by end of 2016

BOSTON  -- Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) has set an ambitious goal to enable more of its network with IPv6 addressing, reflecting a need to support more devices and functions on its network.

John Schanz, chief network officer for Comcast Cable, told attendees during an intimate networking event in Boston that Comcast is on track to have nearly half of its traffic on IPv6 by the end of 2016.

"In our network today, about 30 percent of our traffic is IPv6 and we expect that to be around 50 percent by end of the year," Schanz said. "If you look at the global internet traffic is about 20 percent so we see a bit more in our network."

The only reason that some of the traffic from its peering partners is in IPv4 today is due to two reasons: a content provider does not want to deliver their services over IPv6 yet or a user is still on older CPE equipment that does not support IPv6.

To address the hybrid IPv4/IPv6 needs of its network partners, Comcast completed the build out of a dual stack IPv4/IPv6 network in 2014.

Like other service providers the initial driver for moving to IPv6 is the need for address space.

However, Schanz says IPv6 can enable Comcast and other service providers to more effectively manage and deliver services to consumers and business customers.

"We started to see that it's not just address space," Schanz said. "It's not just about only being able to address devices and things connected to the network because there are lots of capabilities in the IPv6 header and how you can do things to take your network and deliver services in a much smarter fashion."

While still an emerging concept for Comcast and others, the service provider is enabling all of its cloud-based business and consumer service platforms with IPv6.

Some of the services that run on IPv6 include the MSO's business class voice and Comcast's X1 platform, which allows users to get integrated search results across live TV, XFINITY On Demand and a DVR, personalized recommendations and apps like Facebook, Pandora and more right on a TV set.

Comcast runs 50 percent of its X1 platform on IPv6, a figure that the cable MSO said will increase to 100 percent by the end of the year.

"Even today almost 100 percent of how we manage the network internally is through IPv6, but a lot of folks don't see that when you're managing these devices internally," Schanz said. "Any of the new services we built in the last few years have been IPv6-enabled and that includes our cloud-based services around business class voice where a small business will have a PBX in the cloud and the X1 operating system."

Another area where Comcast sees opportunities to use IPv6 is related to the burgeoning Internet over Things (IoT) concept. The cable MSO itself has about 100 million things connected to its network, a figure that it says will continue to grow.

According to a report from Cisco and DHL, there are 15 billion devices on the Internet of Things (IoT) today, but that number will jump to 50 billion devices by 2020.

But when Comcast thinks of the IoT concept, assigning addresses to physical items is just one part of the equation.

The service provider sees the opportunity to provide addresses to various virtual functions on the network like firewalls and storage, for example.

"The interesting thing with v6 is that we're going to rethink how address space is used," said Kevin McElearney, SVP of network engineering for Comcast. "Right now, everybody thinks that IP addresses are devices, but if the Internet of Things is really the Internet of virtual things then every device could have 100 or 1,000 addresses so it's going to get interesting if you want to start addressing things like blocks of storage, application calls, or services."

McElearney added that Comcast could "address blocks of storage by application calls and services."

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