The organisation that coordinates the internet's global domain name system is urging network operators around the world to adopt IPv6 as the global supply of IPv4 addresses begins to dwindle.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced this week its Internet Assigned Numbers Authority department (IANA) had started the process of allocating the remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses to the five regional internet registries (RIRs) — in Africa, North America, Asia Pacific, Latin America and Europe.
According to ICANN, the activation of the process was triggered when the Latin America and Caribbean Network Information Centre's supply of addresses dropped below eight million.
The move is an indicator that the global supply of IPv4 address is reaching a critical level, according to ICANN, as a burgeoning number of internet-enabled devices come online and the demand for IP addresses rapidly increases.
In a statement, ICANN said that IPv4 is incapable of supplying enough addresses to facilitate the expansion of the new devices flooding into the global market and that network providers should begin adopting IPv6 to allow for the rapid growth of the internet.
"To continue to fuel the economic growth and opportunity that is brought by the Internet, we are at the point where rapid adoption of IPv6 is a necessity to maintain that growth," said Elise Gerich, vice president of IANA and technical operations at ICANN.
"We are grateful for the guidance we've received from the RIRs as the number of unallocated IPv4 addresses dwindles," said Gerich. "This redistribution of the small pool of IPv4 addresses held by us ensures that every region receives an equal number of addresses while we continue to work with the community to raise support for IPv6."
For Leo Vegoda, operational excellence manager at ICANN, the redistribution of recovered address space is no longer a long-term option for providers, given the rapidly expanding rate of IP address allocation.
"The IANA IPv4 recovered address space registry contained about 20 million IPv4 addresses earlier today and is now about half that size," said Leo Vegoda, operational excellence manager at ICANN, on 20 May. "Redistributing increasingly small blocks of IPv4 address space is not a sustainable way to grow the internet. IPv6 deployment is a requirement for any network that needs to survive."
IPv4 was the first publicly-used version of the internet protocol and was developed as a research project by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency in the US. It went on to become the foundation for the internet.
IPv4 still carries over 96 percent of internet traffic globally, with the percentage of users reaching Google services over IPv6 hitting three percent as of February this year.
IPv6 adoption currently stands at around 3.5 percent according to Google, with Germany claiming 8.02 percent adoption, the US at 7.35 percent, and Australia at 0.54 percent.
IPv4 uses 32-bit addresses, providing around 4.3 billion unique addresses, whereas IPv6 employs a 128-bit address, facilitating up to 340 undecillion (10 to the power of 36) unique addresses.