Available Internet IP addresses are nearly exhausted
August 9, 2010
by Mark Ollig

Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn probably never thought their new protocol version used for assigning unique Internet addresses would ever be maxed out when they developed the IPv4 for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Internet program back around 1980.

Hey, Vinton and Robert – the Internet is down to just 231 million available IPv4 addresses today.

Most of the Internet utilizes IPv4 (Internet Protocol Version 4) addressing which uses 32-bit or four-bytes (because as we know, there are eight bits in a byte) addresses. The limit using IPv4 is about 4.3 billion unique Internet addresses.

According to the September 1981: Darpa Internet Program Protocol Specification, “The internet protocol provides for transmitting blocks of data called datagram’s from sources to destinations, where sources and destinations are hosts identified by fixed length addresses.”

In 1982, when IPv4 began to be used as the Internet Protocol for addressing, it was thought 4.3 billion unique addresses would be enough for the Internet. We need to note this was a time before web browsers and mobile devices – when the Internet was mostly a smaller text based network used by government and academic researchers.

What is the solution? The IP protocol, called IPv6, which is already being used on some parts of the Internet network today.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the organization responsible for setting standards on the Internet, previously adopted this replacement protocol standard.

IPv6 is not new. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority or IANA (which manages IP address allocation), had acquired management for the IPv6 address lists back in 1996.

What about IPv5? Well, it was never introduced for public usage. There is a long story about IPv5 and how it was instead used for something called ST (Internet Stream Protocol), which was developed much earlier for an experimental transmission of voice and video signals.

Your humble columnist was sounding the alarm back in 2007 ,when I wrote a column about the importance of adapting to the new IPv6 protocols to relieve the burden on IPv4 limits. In 2007, China and only a small percentage of other countries had begun this transition.

IPv6, which is also known as the “next generation Internet protocol” will solve this IP address shortage by increasing the number of decimal values in each address from four to 16. This radically increases address length from 32 to 128 bits, resulting in a near infinite number of combinations – enough for every person alive to have about 50 octillion unique IP addresses.

One octillion is 10 to the 27th power, or a “1” with 27 “0’s” following it.

Where’s my bottle of Advil?

One reason the implementation of IPv6 has not been as progressive as it should be by now is because web-connected devices need to be reconfigured and upgraded. They need to meet the new IPv6 standards – this takes time and costs money.

Additionally, Internet Service Providers (ISP’s) and website hosts will need to make certain equipment and software configuration changes to ensure IPv4 and IPv6 compatibility.

As Star Trek’s engineer Scotty would report to Captain Kirk about the availability of IPv4 addresses, “We are down to less than 10 percent!”

Time is getting critical, and I have no doubt we will be hearing more about this situation from the main-stream media as the deadline draws near.

The “doomsday” clock on available IPv4 address availability is ticking.

The “IPv4 Exhaustion Counter” on the IPv6 Forum website estimates IPv4 addresses will run out in about 340 days, or on July 2, 2011 – 11 months from now.

The powers that be need to get serious about IPv6 implementation right now in order to relieve the imminent IP address exhaustion dilemma.

Vinton Cerf, who is known as the “father of the Internet,” believes we are moving too slowly in the conversion to IPv6.

“Plainly, we are at a cusp, I think, in the IP address space for the Internet,” Cerf stated June 10 during a speech he gave at the opening of Google’s IPv6 Implementers Conference held at the Google complex in Mountain View, CA.

I watched Vinton Cerf make this statement and also offer his knowledgeable advice concerning the implementation of IPv6 during the video presentation portion of the Google conference. I created this shortened URL link to it: http://tinyurl.com/27fz6ke.

Cerf and other experts believe the new IPv6 protocol can work alongside IPv4 for many years through the use of present commercial routing systems. However, the kicker is equipment manufacturers will have to start offering devices which support both protocols, and in the end, folks will probably need to eventually replace their IPv4 home routers and other IPv4 Internet-connected devices.

For more information (including the complete conference agenda and associated links) about the Google IPv6 Implementers Conference, go to http://tinyurl.com/28dl43l.

The IPv6 Forum is located at http://www.ipv6forum.org.