We will be out of IP addresses in 2010

Last week, the telecom ministers of the OECD met in a general atmosphere of impending crisis in Seoul: what will happen to the Internet economy when we will have run out of IP addresses in 2010 or 2011? Of all address combinations possible in version 4 of the IP protocol, only 16% are still available (that is, 700 million of the initial 4.3 milliard addresses). The amount of needed addresses, although, increases exponentially.

When the IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4) was launched 30 years ago, less than 500 hosts were connected to the Internet. Back then, only computers needed an Internet address, while nowadays all kinds of other devices like e.g. mobile phones, gaming consoles, handheld equipment and even refrigerators are hooked up on the Net. IPv6, the successor of the current IP protocol, could help solve this stringent need for addresses. For the math aficionados among you: 2 to the 128th power, or 3.4 x 10 to the 33rd power. This equals 2 to the 52nd power addresses for each star in our universe and over 10 milliard milliard milliard times the number of addresses supported by IPv4.

But it is still a chicken or egg dilemma: first, a sufficient amount of machines (routers, etc.) should support IPv6 before the protocol can be launched. But so long as the protocol hasn’t been launched, machine producers will not be sufficiently stimulated to build in support for IPv6. For the time being, only a few research institutions are using IPv6, as is the American government.

Most governments have planned a transition by 2015, but according to observers, that would be too late since upon estimate, all IP addresses will already be exhausted by 2010 under IPv4. Therefore, governments will have to take action to encourage a faster transition.