Perhaps too late, it’s widely recognized now that the IPv4 address pool will run out in the next few years. The current prediction, based on current data, is for the IANA to exhaust its pool on Jan. 25, 2011, and for the last block from the last RIR (Regional Internet Registry) to go on Dec. 26, 2011. Perhaps someone will buy it in a Boxing Day sale.
The answer to the problem has been around for ages: IPv6. It’s supported by all major operating systems and network hardware vendors (at least for enterprise equipment), and many tests have shown it to be practical. Problem is, it’s incompatible with IPv4, so all networking software needs to be updated to support it.
A number of proposals have been made for a transitional software setup to help people move from IPv4 to IPv6 (Comcast made one just the other day), but it’s clear that these are moving users too slowly, if at all. We’ll run out before a lot of people have moved to IPv6.
Of course, when we say we’ve “run out” we mean the official registries have run out of them. The addresses all will still exist, in the hands of other people. One solution is to allow a market to develop in these addresses so that they can move to those who need them based on supply and demand. Currently this is not permitted; you can’t sell the address blog that your RIR allocated you.
This is especially a shame, since addresses were allocated in large chunks with no real concern back in the ’80s and even ’90s, and as a result there are many organizations with huge blocks of addresses they don’t need, but they have no reason to give them up.
These are some of the problems considered by the Internet Governance Project, a consortium of academics with Internet expertise. They recently issued a report titled “Scarcity in IP Addresses: IPv4 Address Transfer Markets and the Regional Internet Address Registries,” which considers several approaches to the problems.
The report is enthusiastic about a market as the solution to the problem. It calls a market a “pragmatic solution” to the problem of optimizing use of the limited resource of IPv4 addresses. It says that the risks of a market approach are small compared with the potential benefits and that the change is not really so radical. On the other hand, failing to create a legitimate market runs the definite risk of creating an illegitimate one, which would create significant problems through inaccurate registrations.
The Real Beauty of the Market Approach
The real beauty of a market approach is that it could accelerate IPv6 adoption; in fact, I would expect it to. The scarcer IPv4 addresses are, the more expensive they will become. The more expensive they are, the greater the incentive to be done with the problem altogether and pay the prices to move to IPv6. If the price isn’t so high that users feel it’s worth adopting IPv6, then maybe we can get along with a market-limited pool, but I doubt it. I think a market will help enterprises and ISPs see the value of adopting IPv6.
There is a significant issue of equity between the different world regions. For many years addresses have been allocated through the RIRs, which have a lot of autonomy. But the Internet was dominated by the United States for so long that a huge percentage of the addresses are here. Therefore, it’s argued, the market should allow for transfers between the regions, and in principle I agree, although I’ve been told it creates technical problems.
There are lots of problems with setting up such a market. For instance, the rules in the different RIRs are different for who can buy an address block, how to transfer them, what the fees are and so on. It’s reasonable for there to be rules and fees, but they will have to be uniform or at least consistent for a market to function well. This is the biggest reason to doubt a market will develop, since the RIRs will, out of necessity, lose autonomy in a market solution. They will fight it.
I have to admit I’m the sort who’s inclined toward market solutions anyway, so a consensus that such is the best approach toward the impending IP address crisis strokes me in the right way. Maybe I’m too enamored of it to be objective. But I’ve read a lot and written some myself on this subject, and I’ve never heard any solution that sounded remotely practical that didn’t involve a market. Nothing else makes sense.
Security CenterEditor Larry Seltzer has worked in and written about the computer industry since 1983.
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