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Agency Says IPv4 Addresses 'Nearing Total Exhaustion'

The end is nearer for IPv4, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

May 20 triggered an event that likely signals increased difficulty for Internet service providers to get new IPv4 addresses from the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). It was on that day that "recovered IPv4 addresses" were distributed to one of those RIRs, namely, the Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Center (LACNIC).

LACNIC received those recovered addresses after its own supply of Internet addresses dipped below 8 million. However, the fact that ICANN began distributing those recovered IPv4 addresses signaled a shortage, at least from ICANN's perspective.

"This move signals that the global supply of IPv4 addresses is reaching a critical level," ICANN stated in an announcement. "As more and more devices come online, the demand for IP addresses rises, and IPv4 is incapable of supplying enough addresses to facilitate this expansion. ICANN encourages network operators around the globe to adopt IPv6, which allows for the rapid growth of the Internet."

ICANN is the nonprofit entity that oversees Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions, which includes managing the unique identifiers used for Internet traffic. Its responsibilities will get privatized after Sept. 30, 2015.

The 32-bit IPv4 protocol has a numerical limitation, estimated at 4 billion IP addresses. That limitation prevents ICANN from continuing to issue new addresses to the RIRs. However, IPv6 has a 128-bit scheme that can support about "340 trillion trillion trillion" IP addresses, it is estimated.

Recovered Address Pool
ICANN was aware that new IPv4 addresses were running out back in February of 2011. It worked with the RIRs back then to create a recycled pool of Internet addresses, which it called "the recovered address pool," according to an explanation by the Internet Society, in a blog post. The recovered address pool was supposed to be used when one RIR had reached "its last /9 block of IPv4 addresses, which the LACNIC recently did," the Internet Society's blog post explained.

As a consequence, "it will be increasingly hard for network operators to get more IPv4 addresses for new customers and new networks," according to the post.

Such claims have been floated for years. The big problem has been trying to get Internet service providers to make the move from IPv4 to the current IPv6 standard. There's operator reluctance because IPv6 represents a big network upgrade task for them, as well as for device manufacturers.

The IPv4 shortage may seem like it's at the Chicken Little "sky is falling" level, but at least this time ICANN is pointing to a concrete shortage event.

IPv6 Ready to Go
Meanwhile, IPv6 appears to be ready for prime time if Internet service providers would just upgrade their equipment to use it. For instance, in June of 2012, the Internet Society sponsored a test of the IPv6 protocol, called World IPv6 Day, in which the protocol was turned on. While World IPv6 Day was branded a "success," the test just showed that IPv6 was used by less than 1 percent of users at that time. However, one year later, the number of IPv6 users had doubled.

The IPv6 upgrade issue is sort of a chicken-and-egg scenario. Many users may not have routers that support IPv6 because their Internet service providers don't support it either. However, some progress on the Internet service provider side seems to have occurred since the World IPv6 Day test took place back in 2012.

Today, for instance, about half of Verizon Wireless' networks now supports IPv6, according to May stats published by the Internet Society, while Google Fiber has 76 percent of its network using IPv6.

Other service providers using IPv6 include ARNES (41 percent), Free (38 percent), Telenet (31 percent), Swisscom (31 percent), UNINETT (31 percent), VOO (31 percent), Liebniz Supercomputing Center (30 percent), Comcast (28 percent), EPT Luxembourg (27 percent), Hughes Network Systems (27 percent), T-Mobile USA (27 percent), RCS & RDS (24 percent) and Deutsche Telekom (22 percent), among others.

Universities are leading the way on IPv6 use, including Universidad Panamericana (85 percent), Gustavus Adolphus College (76 percent), Louisiana State University (68 percent), Virginia Tech (66 percent), Marist College (59 percent), University of South Florida (49 percent) and the University of Pennsylvania (49 percent), among others.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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