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Less than 1 year until the Internet runs out of addresses

The Internet will run out of Internet addresses in about 1 year's time, we were told today by John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN). The same thing was also stated recently by Vint Cerf, Google's Chief Internet Evangelist.

The main reason for the concern? There's an explosion of data about to happen to the Web - thanks largely to sensor data, smart grids, RFID and other Internet of Things data. Other reasons include the increase in mobile devices connecting to the Internet and the annual growth in user-generated content on the Web.

Why a New Internet Protocol is Needed

Currently the Web largely uses IPv4, Internet Protocol version 4. Each IPv4 address is limited to a 32-bit number, which means there are a maximum of just over 4 billion unique addresses. IPv6 is the next generation Internet Protocol and uses a 128-bit address, so it supports a vastly larger number of unique addresses. Enough, in fact, to give every person on the planet over 4 billion addresses!

John Curran from ARIN, the non-profit responsible for managing the distribution of Internet addresses in the North American region, told ReadWriteWeb that of the approximately 4 billion IPv4 addresses available, all but 6% have already been allocated. Curran expects the final 6% to be allocated over the coming year.

This is largely an issue that ISP (Internet Service Providers) and telecoms carriers need to deal with. However content service providers, including large-scale Internet companies like Google and Facebook, also need to ensure that the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 takes place. Curran explained that a content company like Google (for example its YouTube operation) will need to work with its ISP to transport the content via IPv6 as well as IPv4.

This transition is happening "slowly," says Curran. But he warns that "deployment is where we're behind."

Google, Facebook & Others Making Good Progress

John Curran told us that large carriers like Verizon and Comcast have announced trial IPv6 activity. Curran also noted that new Internet of Things initiatives that use sensor networks, power grids, RFID and similar technologies, are being directed to use IPv6 and not IPv4.

There is also solid support from the big Internet companies. Curran said that Google has already put the majority of its services onto IPv6. Declaring its support for IPv6 on a special webpage, Google states that "IPv6 is essential to the continued health and openness of the Internet [and] will enable innovation and allow the Internet's continued growth."

In June, Google held a Google IPv6 Implementors Conference. At that event, Facebook announced that it had begun to use IPv6.

In his opening remarks to the conference, Google's Chief Internet Evangelist Vint Cerf urges ISPs to move to IPv6, so that a "black market" for Internet addresses won't occur.

Another Y2K?

Critics view some of the push for IPv6 as Chicken Little 'the sky is falling' talk. Commented @ajbraun, a self-described technology leader at Sony Ericsson, via Twitter: "We should call this "IPv6: Y2K II." An obvious issue for 10 years, we will panic at the end and finally much ado about nothing."

Others see a technology called NAT (Network Address Translation) as a solution - it maps multiple addresses to a single IP address, thus reducing the amount of unique IP addresses required. However this is at best a temporary solution. Google argued back in 2008 that NAT and similar technologies "complicate the Internet's architecture, pose barriers to the development of new applications, and run contrary to network openness principles."

Whether or not there is Y2K-style fear mongering, the bottom line is that IPv6 is a much larger platform for the coming Internet of Things. So one way or another, the move will have to be made.