IPv4 Address Exhaustion Not Instant Cause for Concern with IPv6 in Wings

Major telecommunication companies and large organizations already have plans to implement a permanent solution as the remaining IPv4 Web-address space nears exhaustion.

The last IP address blocks in the IPv4 namespace will be automatically assigned to the organizations overseeing the net address assignments three months earlier than expected.

The Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC), the organization that oversees net addresses in the Asia-Pacific region, requested and received two blocks of addresses from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) on Feb. 1. The assignment triggered an ICANN rule (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ), which states that when only five blocks of addresses remain in the pool, they will be parceled out evenly between the five regional agencies.

The rule was expected to kick in around May 26, according to the IPv4 Address Report program back in September. IPv4 Address Report is an online script that calculates how many addresses are left in the namespace. As of Feb. 1, the program calculated that only 1 percent of all possible IPv4 addresses are left unassigned.

Once the five remaining blocks are allocated, the regional registries will continue assigning addresses in these blocks, each containing 16 million IP addresses, until the supply runs out. South American and African registries are expected to last longer since there's comparatively less demand in those regions at this time. The entire address space is expected to be more or less exhausted by Sept. 24, according to the IPv4 Address Report.

Major Internet service providers and infrastructure companies have been preparing for IP-address exhaustion for years and there are transition plans in place, according to networking experts. "It's easy to create alarm with forecasts of the end of Internet address [space], but while there is a lot of smoke, there is no actual fire," said Alain Durand, director of software engineering at Juniper Networks.

APNIC will continue "normal allocations" for another three to six months, and then restrict assignments so that enough addresses are available during the transition to IPv6, the organization said. Under this policy, the organization expects to keep assigning addresses for another five years, APNIC said.

"The future growth and innovation of the Internet is now reliant on deployment of IPv6," said Axel Pawlik, managing director of RIPE NCC, the regional Internet registry for Europe and Middle East.

The current IPv4 naming scheme was developed in the 1970s and had capacity for 4.3 billion addresses, which were grouped into 255 blocks of 16 million addresses each. The replacement scheme, IPv6, has a staggeringly large number of addresses: more than 340 undecillion (for the curious, that's 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456), grouped into blocks of 18 quintillion addresses.