The Internet Running Out of Addresses in 2011


(T) The Internet is running out of addresses! Each computing device connected to the Internet must have a unique worldwide Internet address. Soon, the 4.3 billion addresses that are possible with the 32-bit packet header of the Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) will be exhausted! Presently, only 16.4% of those 4.3 billion addresses are available. Depending on how long the present pool of IPv4 addresses can be preserved, the exhaustion could begin as soon as Spring 2011 (For a real-time estimation, see Geoff Huston’s IPv4 Address Report).

The Urgent Need for More IP Addresses

A larger address space for the Internet is required first by a growing Internet population of users from Asia and South America. China itself would need half of the present 705 million available IPv4 address just for its student population! Second, the growth of new computing devices in particular mobile Internet devices for 3G networks such as smart phones (iPhone, BlackBerry…) and mobile Internet devices in cars and planes. And third, the growth of new kinds of computing appliances for home networks and for industry-specific applications.

Internet addresses are managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and allocated by the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs).

IPv6 The “Only” Solution to the Exhaustion of Internet Addresses

The first standard of IP Next Generation (IPng) later called IP version 6 (IPv6) to solve the limitation of the Internet addressing was proposed in 1995 (IETF RFC 1883). IPv6 128-bit packet header will enable 340 undecillion addresses (or 1,030 IP addresses per person on Earth)! Besides addressing, IPv6 introduced a number of new features for mobility, Internet routing, security, and QoS. But a lot of those features have been retrofitted into IPv4 so the real value of IPv6 lies currently only in its larger address space.

Unfortunately, there is little worldwide network deployment of IPv6. And, without any migration from IPv4 to IPv6, the Internet will run soon out of addresses.

Government institutions in Japan, the US and China have mandated the transition to IPv6. Since August 2005, the US government Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has required that US Federal Agencies must use IPv6 by June 2008. Those requirements have pushed software and equipment vendors (Microsoft, Cisco, IBM…) to provide IPv6 solutions for a long time. Even Mac (Mac OS X) and PC (Windows XP and Vista) computers can be automatically configured for IPv6. But unfortunately, the requirement to move to IPv6 from the public sector did not have any ripple effect on the private sector to adopt IPv6.

So until we are running out of IPv4 addresses, there will not be large IPv6 commercial deployments. This is unfortunate since the Internet will significantly gain in stability if step-by-step migrations from IPv4 to IPv6 will occur. Moving to IPv6 is not a small change to the Internet infrastructure!

The Move to IPv6

Service providers must evolve the Internet to the IPv4/IPv6 dual-stack approach and starting moving to IPv6 in order to have new Internet addresses available for their customers. Enterprises will have no choice in the future to reach other enterprise mail and Web servers through IPv6 while content providers will have to offer their content both to IPv4 and IPv6 content consumers.

The sooner service providers, enterprises and content providers avoid the depletion of IPv4 addresses and move to an end-to-end IPv6 Internet, the better we will able to maintain the scalability, availability, and reliability of today’s Internet so critical to everybody’s life and business.

Note: The picture above is an intersection around Central Park in New York City.

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Categories: Networking