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IP addresses running out?

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Saturday June 5, 2010 )

An article on CNN says an IP address shortage looming with new IP numbers running out in as little as 18 months – or will they?

Every device that connects to the Internet is issued an IP address – a set of numbers that act as a unique identifier. The Internet currently uses IPv4, which allows for around 4 billion IP numbers… and it seems they are running out fast.

According to CNN, within just 18 months, we’ll face a traffic jam of sorts – not enough IP numbers to go around, limiting the number of connections by devices to the Internet at any given time.

A solution has been around for a while – IPv6, which allows for trillions of combinations, but uptake of the new system is slow. Supposedly IPv4 and IPv6 are designed to work together, but there have been some compatibility problems, so businesses, web hosts and ISPs making the switch too late will be further stymied by these issues.

This isn’t just an issue for companies producing devices or ISP’s. The CNN article says web site owners also need to ensure their services (i.e. web hosts) are IPv6-ready, otherwise they will miss out on traffic from people connecting to the Internet using the new protocols.

So if uptake is so slow by web hosts, and my understanding is that is the case, that also means people with IPv6 devices are going to miss out on a lot of the web content – although major players such as Google and YouTube are reportedly already IPv6 ready. Won’t this in itself make those devices a rather unattractive purchase? Unless of course they are also backwards-compatible with IPv4. But if you can’t connect via IPv4 due to an online traffic jam and there’s nothing much to see via IPv6 because web sites haven’t made the switch… bleh, my head hurts.

I really don’t understand all the ins and outs of this, but its something worth keeping tabs on I guess. I raised the issue with a system administrator today and he believes there’s still enough IP addresses to last for a while yet (5 – 10 years) before there’s any real need to panic.

And I’m happy not to – hopefully the boffins will sort it all out in the meantime :).


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