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Some Background on Virgin Media’s UK IPv6 and DOCSIS 3.1 Plans

Saturday, February 24th, 2018 (12:01 am) - Score 18,445
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The parent company of UK cable operator Virgin Media, Liberty Global, has recently offered a couple of interesting updates about their plans for a future upgrade to Gigabit capable DOCSIS 3.1 broadband technology and adoption of the IPv6 internet addressing standard.

Firstly, we’ll talk about IPv6. Last year ISPreview.co.uk revealed news of a secret IPv6 staff trial (here) and we’ve previously been told that the full rollout could begin during H1 2018, although history tells us to remain sceptical. Nevertheless Liberty Global announced yesterday that they’d purchased Benu Networks’ IPv6 Dual-Stack (DS-Lite) solution in order to “provide a seamless migration to IPv6 in the UK.”

The aim of this is to “transition to IPv6 without impacting existing subscribers’ use of IPv4 Internet or applications” and in keeping with that the two companies have also partnered with ARRIS International plc. for “strategic architectural design expertise, integration, and deployment of the Benu Networks’ DS-Lite solution by the ARRIS Global Services team.” ARRIS supply the Hub 3.0 (TG2492S/CE) router that Virgin Media use.

The Technical Description

The DS-Lite solution provides a standards-based Address Family Transition Router (AFTR) capability per the IETF RFC6333 standard deployed on Benu Networks’ latest, high-performance, x86 Multiservice Edge Gateway (xMEG) platform. In addition to standard AFTR functions, the solution supports a robust provider edge routing feature set (e.g. MP-BGP, 6PE, MPLS) for tighter integration while also helping to future proof Liberty Global’s network.

Utilizing a software upgrade, the VSE platform running the DS-Lite solution can easily transition to a virtual customer premises equipment (vCPE) solution to deliver Managed Business Network or Managed Home Network services. This supports Liberty Global’s GIGAWorld initiative announced in November 2016, which aims to accelerate the digital revolution in Europe.

Benu Networks’ IPv6 DS-Lite solution offers an innovative architecture with robust capabilities. Based on proven technology that is readily available to Liberty Global, and which integrates with their broadband customer premises equipment (CPE) (e.g. cable modems, xDSL modems), the Benu Networks’ solution:

* Provides dual-stack to users without requiring any public IPv4 address to be assigned to the CPE, thus streamlining the deployment and management of IPv4.

* Employs IPv6 in the access network to ease the IPv4 exhaustion issue and simplify the management of the access network.

* Supports native IPv6 traffic in the ISP core network which further promotes the adoption of IPv6.

* Delivers a future proof network which does not require new hardware to enable new network functions/services such as a Virtual Services Gateway.

The announcement confirms that Virgin Media are pressing ahead with IPv6, although it also appears to come somewhat late in their deployment strategy and as such we don’t know what impact the implementation side will have on their current rollout timescale.

DOCSIS Network Upgrades

Elsewhere the CEO of Liberty Global, Mike Fries, has finally offered an update on their DOCSIS 3.1 broadband deployment strategy. At present Virgin Media’s existing Hybrid Fibre Coax (HFC) cable network uses EuroDOCSIS and this can in theory push broadband speeds up to near 1Gbps territory (currently 350Mbps for UK homes), while DOCSIS 3.1 is significantly faster (multi-Gigabit capable) and generally better.

At the end of 2016 Liberty Global set out a plan that would see DOCSIS 3.1 capable broadband being deployed to the 11 European countries in which it operates (most were expected to be done by the end of 2018 with field trials due before the end of 2017), although the operator’s progress has since become a source of much debate and it hasn’t even been mentioned in recent financial results.

At the end of last year we asked Virgin Media about all this and they informed us that they had no plans in the immediate term for a trial of the new technology, which was a noteworthy change of position (they previously expected to conduct some sort of customer trial by the end of 2017). In our view this indicated a greater focus on getting the most out of their existing network and supporting the Project Lightning network expansion.

Now Mike Fries has told investors that more than 90% of their networks across should be ready for DOCSIS 3.1 deployments in 2018. “We are darn near all the way there in terms of having our entire footprint gigabit ready with 3.1,” Fries said (Broadband World News).

Indeed Virgin Media have already put a lot of DOCSIS 3.1 capable kit inside their UK network too but a big question mark still remains over when they’ll flick the switch and on this point Mike was non-committal, effectively suggesting that they’ll do it when they see a need.

Mike Fries added:

“The only cost we’ll really incur down the road is for new 3.1 modems. Of course, we’ll do that when we’re ready and we’ll do that in the most economic way possible… We won’t just roll out 3.1 indiscriminately; we’ll roll it out to customers that pay us more for the higher speeds and the better services.”

A quick look at UPC in Switzerland, which has a similar setup to Virgin Media in the UK, shows that existing technology can deliver a top speed of 500Mbps and possibly even faster (assuming you can see a need for that sort of speed today, never mind the usual bottlenecks of WiFi and slow internet servers etc.).

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he is also the founder of ISPreview since 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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36 Responses
  1. Phil

    *sigh* DS-Lite is the worst of both worlds, Carrier Grade NAT on IPV6 (hello issues with VOIP) and not enough long tail of IPV6 services available yet to make that side of it worth a damn.

    • Phil

      Sorry, that should read Carrier Grade NAT on IPV4

    • Rich

      If they take away my ipv4 public address I will leave VM. I do not want cgnat.

      That said, I am somewhat ambivalent to ipv6. Had they just changed the address scheme to 128bit addresses I would be all for it, but by pushing an ideological agenda against the use of NAT, the privacy implications of slaac addresses, etc… I won’t use it until I absolutely have no choice.

    • Phil

      Agree with you Rich, CGNat breaks a lot of online gaming (PS4, Xbox etc) there’s scores of complaints from the Virgin Ireland forum where they’re already up and running DS Lite.

      The other option is setting up an L2TP tunnel with AAISP for £10 a month, but that’s limited to 100Mbps.

    • Mike

      Anyone that has an static IPv4 address should not be affected IETF RFC6333 is dual stack capable.

  2. asrab uddin

    looks like Openreach have a lot of catching up to do – if Virgin media are ready with 90% network capable gigabit ready – they should offer this as a premium service “now” and blow BT and their puny effort of 3 million FTTP project out of the water,

    The tech savvy people will lap this up, they can drop the price once open reach are able to offer anything near this speed, which i reckon will be at leat 5 – 10 years away,

    Virgin media should really shake their completion

    • Chris P

      The VM deployment will be flawed by its use of ds-lite which will put off the tech savvy people.

      DS-Lite uses carrier grade nat which will be a huge issue for anyone that runs home servers, IOT, voip and many other things that rely on traffic being initiated from the outside.

    • Gadget

      as long as the 10% isn’t backhaul and core capacity otherwise they will probably need to price constrain demand to avoid being back on the network congestion “naughty step”.

    • James

      Keep in mind of course, VM only available is a small percentage of the UK, and I can almost bet, most of the FTTP rollout areas will likely also be VM areas.

    • FibreFred

      I don’t think 50+ % is small 🙂

    • CarlT

      James said ‘VM only available’ which is a qualifier that takes it down to about 9% of the country.

    • Steven C

      As a technical person, unfortunately I have to disagree. I would love a gigabit connection, but I can’t accept such a network infrastructure.

      I would imagine that Virgin will use a dynamic /64 IPv6 range, meaning this would break static IP’s and internal DNS. I also hope that if you were to request a static allocation, they wouldn’t force you to use their router and a GRE tunnel.

      I was with Virgin Media up-until ~6 months ago, because I wanted a /29 for my homelab. Although I took a bandwidth hit, I do get better QoS and a static block of IPv6 addresses running natively. I don’t think gigabit in the near-term would sway my opinion.

    • Mike

      Which ISP supports all those things then?

  3. Matthew Williams

    Not knowing quite what DS-Lite is. I assume it is a permanent bad thing and not something they could fix later on?

    • Phil

      Sort of.

      Once the entire world has switched over to IPV6 and IPv4 is a thing of the past, it’s fine, because you get a proper IPV6 address.

      In the meantime though, CGNat breaks XBox live, Playstation Network, will prevent you from connecting to your home network from any network that doesn’t support IPV6 (which will hit me for instance, I have an OpenVPN server running on my edge router at home so that I can connect to my internal network from anywhere in the world – now that will mean that I can only connect from somewhere that has IPV6 access).

      It’s just completely the wrong approach to take to rolling out IPV6 – BT OpenReach have been far better in this regards, rolling out proper dual stack where you have both a publically routable IPV4 address AND a /56 IPV6 subnet allocated to you.

    • Vince

      @Phil in his reply to Matthew…

      Given “BT Openreach” as you put it do not provide the ISP service, they all don’t do dual-stack IPv4/IPv6 either – that’s entirely down to the ISP using an Openreach based service.

    • Gareth

      @phil – having worked on both systems I’m fairly sure Xbox Live (at least on the Xbox One) supports IPv6, but PSN (PS4) does not…

      However both should work with cgnat as long as it’s not too restrictive.

    • Mike

      “In the meantime though, CGNat breaks XBox live, Playstation Network, will prevent you from connecting to your home network from any network that doesn’t support IPV6”

      Nonsense PSN is IPv4 and IPv6 capable and has been for ages.

      “It’s just completely the wrong approach to take to rolling out IPV6 – BT OpenReach have been far better in this regards, rolling out proper dual stack”

      Nonsense again, whether you get/have IPv6 or IPv4 is entirely down to the ISP you use which is using the OR network.

    • Steven C

      In response to this, Xbox Live is actually IPv6 only, so would most likely give slightly better performance on IPv6.

      When an Xbox is on an IPv4 only network, it sets-up a teredo tunnel.

    • Phil

      @Mike – they may support it, but when they hand out an IP ban it affects everyone on that IP address – google WS-37397-9 error to see what can happen.

    • Mike

      Xbox and PSN complete blocks (IE no more online account) are done by console ID blocking not IP address.

      IP address bans down to something like CGNAT are solved by something as simple as a router reboot. If your dynamic IP is that sticky a quick change of the routers MAC and then changing it back will give you a new IP. If you have a static IP and they ban that then it will be nobodies fault but your own.

      CGNAT IP banning be it on consoles or otherwise is a non-issue.

  4. Simon

    “we’ll roll it out to customers that pay us more for the higher speeds and the better services.””

    Finally some sense! No one in my area can afford it so I would have fast internet at a premium! – which I hope means less congestion overall!

    BT take note!

  5. Ross

    They are late to deploy IPv6 in the UK compared with other Liberty Global networks elsewhere in Europe. Telenet in Belgium also part of Liberty Global deployed IPv6 but in the least disruptive way for customers. They provide full Dual Stack connectivity. That way the customer router gets both a public IPv4 address and IPv6 prefix. The transition is smoother as both the old and new can work normally.

    With DS-Lite in the ISP network the IPv4 connectivity is shared while giving full unshared IPv6 connectivity. Customers behind DS-Lite have the disadvantages of CGN such as not being able to run services listening on IPv4 https or other particular ports. If they provided legacy IPv4 connectivity using the newer MAP-T method it would have been better but still not as good as dual stack.

    • CarlT

      Liberty have to get some money into Benu Networks, a company they have invested in, somehow.

      Full dual-stack doesn’t leave the opportunity to have UK customers subsidise Benu. The Juniper / Cisco kit is capable of this.

  6. Matthew Williams

    Virgin media has got to be available to around to half of the country now or close to that amount hardly small

  7. Wujek Pawel

    UPC (Liberty Global) in Poland offers IPv6 together with IPv4 (nearly static) for about 3-4 years as a standard. All capable devices in local network get dual IPv4 (internal)+IPv6 (routable) addresses by default, but all ports are closed on firewall. I am absolutely sure they will keep dual stack.

  8. Ds-lite is not the solution. I currently use vm in modem mode with a HE ipnv6 tunnel you give me the best of both worlds. My internal devices are routable where I set my firewall rules. My servers although they share the same cname resolution are reverse proxies to the relevant devices etc. I want VM to give me native ipv6 with a routable subnet for my internal network to enable me to dump the HE tunnel. But to still give me a public ipv4 for my openvpn, voip etc.

    • Chris P

      Ha ha

      Let us know when any of that reaches mass adoption.

      There are loads of different addressing schemes and ways of moving traffic that are niche. Today the best way of using any of them in a distributed way is to tunnel over IPv4.

      FYI MPLS is a common way of moving data about without relying on IP, but it it mainly moves IP data.

  9. Moses Jonson

    Hopefully as VM customer I’ll get to exprience that upgrade in future, at the moment I’m enjoying my Virign media network (100mbps) speed atm, I love it in fact, to be fair Virgin has shot the ball out of the park at this rate, BT are the ones that are being lazy with their network, they had many years to upgrade the infrastructure to upgrade our country backbone network and many cities, rural and towns infrastructure (but chose not too), I’m glad hyperoptic, Virgin, Vodafone and (a bit of Sky) are stepping up to the plate to putting inthe necessary updates/upgrades to our networks so in future updating networks and systems will become seamsless for businesses and consumers.

  10. A_Builder

    Well there is a pretty obvious link to the conversation thread

    https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2018/02/ofcom-changes-boost-uk-full-fibre-broadband-cut-fttc-prices.html#respond

    as to why VM are in no hurry to 3.1 as OR are slow on FTTP and the longer VM leave upgrading to router/modems to 3.1 the cheaper it will be.

    So I wouldn’t be surprised to see that the first areas to ‘benefit’ from 3.1 will be areas that already receive FTTP from the others.

    If VM sorted their network out a bit it is the thing that is threatening to poop all over OR’s network if they really can get 1G robustly over the coax. Particularly as VM can now do a very fast rollout of of 1G If they chose to. That being said in a lot of areas I’m familiar with the state of the infrastructure is so poor that getting it to work at all is a prayer.

  11. To address Chris P’s observations see http://www.etsi.org/news-events/news/1135-2016-10-news-etsi-next-generation-protocols-group-releases-first-specification

    I sit on this working group and we might see something “real” circa 2021. It is time to stop using sticking plasters.

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