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The Internet Is Running Out of IP Addresses

Contributor:
David Silversmith
David Silversmith

Leading computer experts, including Vint Cerf, the man who helped invent the Internet, are trying to raise the publicity level that the web is running out of unique addresses.

Every device with an Internet connection has an IP address, a number like 1.160.10.240. The current IP protocol, IPv4, provides for about 4 billion IP addresses, which probably seemed like a lot at the time the Internet went online. However, today with smartphones, computers, televisions, cars, and a growing number of other devices connecting to the Internet net, it’s proving to be a very small number.

Right now in my house, as an example, we have 4 IP addresses in use.  One address on an iPhone, 2 addresses on each of 2 Android phones and one more address on the router from my Internet Service Provider.  Also within my house I have 3 PCs, a Wii and an iTouch all connected to the router.  However within an isolated network, you can assign IP addresses as nonroutable IP addresses that also exist on many other isolated networks, thus allowing multiple devices to share one Internet IP address.

Right now, there are an estimated 232 million left with estimates that these could run out withing the year. Others think it will end earlier, and there’s an Internet doomsday clock as well as a Twitter account which are chronicling the end of the IP addresses. For when the internet protocol (IP) addresses do run out, the connectivity of the internet will be damaged and some computers will not be able to go online.

A new system called IPv6 has been ready for a decade and is already in use in some places.  IPv6 addresses are 128 bits long and that comes out to 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 possible addresses, so IPV6 will last quite some time.

The problem?  Nothing more than money.  Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of devices need to be updated.  Most of those devices are equipment at telecommunications and Internet Service Providers run and they have been moving very slowly on upgrading equipment to be IPv6 compatible.  Though this is not just an issue for companies producing devices or ISP’s. Web site owners will also need to ensure their services are IPv6-ready, otherwise they will miss out on traffic from people connecting to the Internet using the new protocols.

This issue is far more real than the Y2K, year 2000 issue, but is getting far far less attention.  Only time will tell what will happen as the IP addresses run out - perhaps those of us willing to do less online will be able to make a bundle selling our IP addresses on the black market!

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