Is the internet running out of IP addresses?

10th March 2016

Uncover the steps IT experts and leaders are taking to protect the future of the internet's never-ending potential.



In 1983, when IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) was deployed for production in the granddad of the internet, ARPANET thought that a few billion unique numbers would be enough.
 
It turns out they were very, very wrong.
 
Once the internet’s potential was revealed, it quickly became obvious that the world was going to run out of internet addresses. The problem was that IPv4 was only 32-bit, which meant the maximum number of IP addresses it could generate was approximately 4.3 billion.
 
IPv6 the road ahead
 
That may sound like a lot, but engineers soon began to develop IPv6 (Internet Protocol version 6). The latest version of the internet uses 128-bit numbers for the protocol, which provides 340 undecillion IP addresses.
 
While it would be foolish to say the world will never run out of IP addresses, with IPv6 it should take a long time – even with the rise of the Internet of Things.
 
Running out of IP addresses
 
Although the problem was first recognised in the 1990s, in the past few years it has become more urgent.
 
In 2011, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the organisation that hands out blocks of IP addresses to regional organisations, ran out of blocks of IP addresses – as did the regional registry that covers Australia, the Asia-Pacific Network Information Centre.
 
In September 2015, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), the organisation responsible for issuing IP addresses in North America, announced it had run out of freely available IPv4 addresses.
 
Y2K déjà vu
 
While these blocks won’t be used immediately but doled out over time, the reality is that the internet is facing a similar situation to the 1990s. As with the Y2K bug, there is a problem out there that needs to be dealt with.
 
There’s no issue with operating systems and devices, and Windows has been IPv6 compatible since XP Service Pack 1, but IPv4 and IPv6 aren’t completely compatible.
 
So a device on an IPv6 network – such as a 4G smartphone – can’t browse a site running on an IPv4-only web server, unless there is some sort of compatibility layer between them.
 
Belts and braces for the foreseeable future
 
IPv4 won’t be going away, and most if not all ISPs are already running what’s known as dual-stack transition infrastructure where IPv4 and IPv6 are run in tandem. However, with enterprises it’s a bit different. Some know they’ll need to make the transition soon, but others have their head in the sand and are going to be caught short in the near future.
 
These laggards may already find their routing table blowing out as they struggle to get coherent blocks of IP addresses. However, for most Australian businesses and consumers, the only impact it’s likely to have is that we’ll need to replace our routers and/or modems.
 
It’s a brave new world out there and businesses will need to continually adapt to compete. Download our free 2020: The future of ICT white paper for more IT insights and trends.
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