The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

Summary: The Internet's IPv4 gas tank warning light just came on. It's time to pull over to the IPv6 service station.


If the Internet was a car, it would be running out of gas and the fuel warning idiot light would have just come on. Late yesterday, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) assigned its last two available blocks of IPv4 addresses to the Asia-Pacific Network Information Center. That leaves us with five major IPv4 blocks of unassigned addresses. But, according to IANA rules those blocks will now automatically be dished out to each of the world's five Regional Internet Registries (RIR). By Thursday, February 3rd, when I expect this to happen, we'll be running on empty.

Just like your car, unless you're a high-level network engineer or administrator, you're not going to notice any difference. The Internet isn't going to break or anything like that.

We are, however, running out Internet IPv4 addresses, the 32-bit numeric addresses that network devices need to connect to the Internet, even faster than we expected. Last fall, we thought that IANA would run out of numbers to give the RIRs on May 26th 2011. What happened?

What happened was all those mobile devices that we love so much, like smartphones, Android tablets, and iPads, have been using up IPv4 addresses even faster than we thought they would. ABI Research reported just today that "Worldwide mobile broadband-enabled subscriptions … will hit the one billion mark in 2011." The technologies, such as Network Address Translation (NAT) and Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR), which we've been using to avoid running out of IPv4 addresses have finally proven insufficient.

According to the IPv4 Address Report, our IPv4 gas tank is now down to 1% of all IPv4 addresses left unassigned. At the rate, we're going this program predicts the RIRs' will issue their last addresses on September 24th 2011. I don't think we'll make it that long. I predict we'll run out some time this summer.

What will happen then? If you're just a happy Internet user, you probably won't notice much of anything... at first. Then, you may start noticing that your ISP bills start going up. If you run your own Web site, you'll see your Web hosting fees increase sooner than that. You may not know why your ISP and Web-hosting costs are going up, but they'll will be rising.

Behind the scenes what will be happening is that the big ISPs will start buying IP blocks from companies and organizations that already have large IP address blocks and aren't using them. For example, General Electric, Ford, Halliburton, and Eli Lilly all own /8, aka slash 8, IP blocks which consists of about 16 million IP addresses. To the best of my knowledge none of these companies use anything like that many addresses. For the most part, they obtained them back in the 90s when most people still thought that IPv4's approximately 4.3-billion addresses was a limitless resource. Now, those same blocks will become valuable commodities.

The ISPs and enterprises with longer term vision though will be switching their Internet infrastructure to IPv6. As Martin Levy, Hurricane Electric's Director of IPv6 Strategy, said, "In order to avoid costly capital expenditures down the road and possible failure on their business continuity plans, companies must make the migration to IPv6 sooner rather than later. Companies that fail to migrate to IPv6 will face a number of painful options, including buying expensive equipment to cobble together an address-sharing scheme or going out to the marketplace to acquire IP address space at a potentially exorbitant price."

Hurricane Electric, which is one of the leading IPv6 ISPs, clearly has reasons for wanting you to switch to over IPv6, but, they're also right. Businesses, ISPs, Web-hosting companies and, finally home users, are all going to need to switch to IPv6 and the sooner they get on with it the better. After all, it won't be long before that gas-tank warning light won't just be blinking at you, your Internet address engine is soon going to start sputtering, and you're going to hate the new IPv4 gas prices.

Topics: Browser, Networking, Telcos

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

    I know very little about this area but I notice that my ISP assigns me both a IP4 and a IP6 address. I suppose that is a start?
    • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

      @Mythos7 Yup, and it's very good that they are doing so.

      Most users won't notice a thing as far as internet access goes. You won't get disconnected or anything like that.

      However, as he pointed out, it may affect prices as competition increases for a resource that is no longer in plentiful supply.

      Considering your ISP appears to be already using IPv6, your price probably won't be affected as much as others.

      IMO the biggest effect will likely be increased cell phone plan prices and carriers scrambling to get their phones on IPv6. Keep an eye on any cell phone bills you have.
  • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

    So, what should we do about this?
  • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

    If your ISP assignes you both an IP4 and IP6 address I don't think you are going to have the problem. The idea is that the infrastructure, like DNS, DHCP, etc needs to ensure that IP6 is in use. The only thing your home router needs to know, (assuming you use a standard NAT) is how to reach its gateway and DNS servers. All of this is typically set up by your ISP when they install a cable or DSL modem.
  • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

    Thanks for the replies. I just discovered I can ping my IP6 address also.
  • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

    Technical issues aside, my concern is how long will holders of unused IPv4 blocks delay the adoption of IPv6, so they can squeeze maximum profits from the IPv4 addresses. Once IPv6 is the norm, IPv4 addresses become worthless. My ISP has been assigned IPv6 addresses, but is there is, currently, no way for me to get IPv6 from my ISP, or any ISP in my area. We are slaves to our ISPs on this issue, so how long will they ransom IPv4 addresses?
    • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

      @anothercanuck I'd say you can expect to see those blocks--and chunks of them--being sold for good money for the next two years.
  • Should have replaced tcp/ip

    The big guys should have implemented a replacement for tcp/ip altogether rather than upgrading something designed on the earliest days of computing. Wasn't there a replacement called GOSIP or something like that back in ancient times that was going to be a replacement but died out because of complexity?

    In any case, ideally we should have something that is less error prone and doesn't rely on typing in or acquiring addresses from special servers. Back in the IPX days you'd assign a branch of your network a number at the router. The clients and admins didn't have to know what network they were on - since obviously if they were attached to that subnet that's the subnet they were on. You didn't have to assign clients addresses since that was automatic. I know it wasn't designed for the Internet, but the logic behind it is way ahead of IP addressing.

    We do too many things the hard way. Making IP assignments more complex isn't the answer. Designing and switching to something modern is the answer. Yes, it would be a lot of work and lot of changes - but if we're going through it anyway to switch to IP6 why not switch to something better?
    • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

      [i]"I know it wasn't designed for the Internet, but the logic behind it is way ahead of IP addressing."[/i]

      Doesn't do much good if it isn't routable. The main reason TCP/IP took over was its ability to mesh the internet with the intranet. Hence the IP (internet protocal) name.
  • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

    Ok, but, what is the percentage of utilization of those IPV4 addresses which have been 'assigned'?
    • RE: The Internet's IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty

      @Tech-butnotIT Good question, but we don't have a great answer. The publicly available IP #s, via ISPs are all pretty much taken. The IPs belonging to corporations, such as the ones I mentioned, are another story. Even if they were all available, they wouldn't help a lot. Mobile devices are gobbling up IP addresses at an incredible rate.

  • Funny!

    MS will fix this with IE9
  • IPV6?? Is hardware out there?

    I ask this partly in frustration - and partly from ignorance - mainly because I want to know.

    A while back I sent email to D-Link tech support and also customer support asking if my current router supported IPV6. After waiting more than 4 weeks, I revived the message and sent it on again. As you may surmise - the silence has been deafening. NADA - as near as I can tell I must be speaking an unknown language for the people at D-Link.

    I have reached the conclusion that despite a significant (for me) investment in D-Link network gear - I need to turn my back on them, as they have apparently done to their existing customer base. In that light what wired/wireless routers that fully support IPV6 are out there. My wired network is all gigabit speed now so I will bypass IPV6 before I step back on the speed issue.

    Wireless access here is for casual access - social sites, game play, etc. Security risk activity are confined to the wired network residing behind reasonable firewall and malware security. Any thoughts on what would be a good alternative for our home network?