The Internet Runs Out of Device Addresses
Every Internet-enabled device in use today — from computers to smartphones and tablets — is assigned a numerical label called an IP address. But today, the last available number combinations have been assigned and no more are left.
How is this possible?
Ever since 1981, the Web pages we use today run on what’s called IPv4 — the fourth version of the Internet Protocol, where data from a computer connects to the Internet network based on the address. The company that allocates and delegates these blocks of IP addresses to five regional registries — the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority — has given out its last block.
Although the IPv4 — which is made up of more than 4 billion addresses — was initially thought to be very large when it was first developed, the times have changed.
"When the commercial Internet was in its infancy, the pool of around four billion IPv4 addresses seemed huge and no one predicted its rapid growth ," said The Number Resource Organization (NRO) in a statement today. (NRO is an industry group made up of five regional Internet provider registries.) "Over time, it has become clear that more addresses than this will be required to ensure ongoing growth of the Internet."
The problem is that IPv4 allows for a maximum of just over four billion unique addresses (for example, 10.142.131.235). It is limited by the number of unique number combinations that can be created in this format, according to the NRO.
However, The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) developed a new protocol back in 1999 called IPv6, which allows for roughly 340 trillion, trillion, trillion unique IP addresses. Instead of just numbers, the protocol also incorporates letters.
"This huge amount of addresses is expected to accommodate the predicted expansion of the Internet and Internet-related services well into the future," the NRO said.
The issue, however, is that IPv4 addresses and IPv6 addresses are not automatically compatible with each other, so network operators need to make investments to ensure that this can happen, the NRO added.
While those who purchase an Internet-enabled device in the next few years after the last of the assigned IPv4s are given out, everyone will still be using IPv4s — and it will take some time for everyone to finally make the switch to the IPv6 protocol. Another issue is that many sites do not have IPv6 capabilities just yet — in fact, less than 0.25 percent does, which means there could be some big issues with Web access.
"Some network operators are not prioritizing the investment to make their software and hardware IPv6-ready," the NRO said. "Industry partners are working hard to ensure that everyone is aware of IPv4 depletion and the importance of preparing for the widespread adoption of IPv6 on the Internet."