This week, the last of the world’s 4.3 billion IP addresses based on its standard IPv4 platform were allocated. So what does this mean for you and your business? Sebastien Lahtinen, co-founder of independent broadband news site, thinkbroadband.com, explains the growing importance of the new IPv6 address system, and why you should check your technology is compatible.
This week marks the beginning of the end of the Internet as we know it. Yesterday morning, the Internet authority IANA allocated two batches of IPv4 addresses to APNIC, the regional Internet registry of the Asia Pacific, leaving just five batches (known as /8s) in the global pool.
Some time ago, the regional Internet registries (RIRs) agreed that, when IANA got down to the last five /8s, the organisation would allocate them automatically to the five RIRs, regardless of whether or not those registries needed more IP addresses at the time. That day has arrived, meaning that IANA’s stock of IPv4 addresses is now fully depleted.
“Internet engineers have been talking about transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6 for over ten years now” explains Sebastien Lahtinen, co-founder of thinkbroadband.com, “but this is truly the beginning of the end for IPv4. In a few weeks, Regional Internet Registries will be allocating their last IPv4 blocks to network operators, and eventually the shortage of IPv4 addresses will trickle down to end users” he adds.
“If you think of IPv4 addresses in terms of fuel for your car; then we’ve now exhausted the under-sea oil reserves and the refineries will soon produce their last barrels. Eventually the petrol station forecourts will start to run dry.
“The good news is that most users won’t really notice any difference immediately because unlike fuel for your car, you don’t generally need new IP addresses to keep using your Internet connection working, but the shortage of addresses will start to force service providers to implement IPv6 in order to help grow their business. However, like electric cars, it takes time for the support infrastructure to be in place before widespread adoption will ensue. There are still many legacy devices that don’t support IPv6,” concludes Lahtinen.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How many IPv4/IPv6 addresses are there?
There are approximately 4 billion IPv4 addresses, however not all of these can be used openly on the Internet. There are so many IPv6 addresses that each human being could have trillions of addresses
IPv4 = 4,294,967,296 addresses
IPv6 = 340,282,366,920,938,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 addresses
Q: When will IPv4 finally run out?
This depends. IP addresses are distributed through registries and service providers to end-users, so it will take some time before each level runs out. We will start seeing some of the effects within weeks or months. We are now seeing final allocations from IANA to the Regional Internet Registries (RIPE in Europe), who will distribute them to Local Internet Registries (typically network operators/service providers) who will then assign space to end-users.
Q: What happens when IPv4 runs out?
It is likely that network operators will try to free up unused IP addresses in the short term, but there will be an increasing push for IPv6 adoption.
There are also several systems designed to help in the transition between IPv4 and IPv6 to increase interoperability. We are likely to see increased use of Network Address Translation (NAT), which allows IP addresses to be shared by a number of users, something mobile broadband companies have already been using for many years on a large scale.
Q: How do I use IPv6?
Most modern operating systems support IPv6 out of the box, including Windows 7, Windows Vista, the latest Appl Mac OS X and most Linux systems. Some older systems including Windows XP may require some additional configuration.
You also need to ensure your broadband router is IPv6-enabled. Most consumer routers currently are not supporting native IPv6, so make sure your next router does. Finally, you need to ensure your Internet Service Provider supports IPv6.
Q: How difficult is moving to IPv6 for consumers?
Moving to IPv6 should be a process that happens gradually when you upgrade equipment and there are transitioning provisions in place that will ensure interconnectivity between IPv4 and IPv6 network. This means that consumers have no need to panic; this is not a millenium bug situation.
Consumers don’t generally have to interact with IP addresses directly, as the Internet uses domain names which are more memorable for users, which are translated into IP addresses. These domains can have both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses.