Yes, you read the headline correctly. The Internet is about to run out of IP addresses. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority has scheduled a press conference in Miami on Thursday to announce that they are distributing the last blocks of new Internet addresses. It is expected that all of those IP addresses will be fully distributed within 6 to 9 months and then there will be no more. The current IP address system, known as “IPv4″, can only support a little over 4 billion IP addresses and we have now almost reached that limit. The good news is that a replacement for the current system already exists, but the bad news is the the vast majority of Internet devices around the globe do not speak the “language” of the new system. This has the potential to create an Internet “headache” of mammoth proportions in the coming years.
Most of the time humanity will not start addressing a problem until it is staring us right in the face. Well, this problem has arrived. By making this announcement now, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is hopefully giving us enough of a “kick in the pants” that the transition to the new system will not be a complete and total disaster.
Everyone knew that this day would eventually arrive, but the massive increase in the number of Internet devices over the past decade has caused it to arrive faster than most experts were anticipating.
The new system is known as “IPv6″, and it will have far more capacity than IPv4 has. As mentioned earlier, IPv4 cannot support much more than 4 billion IP addresses, but IPv6 can reportedly handle 340 trillion devices connected to the Internet at the same time.
Once all of the IPv4 addresses are gone, the only addresses that will be available will be IPv6 addresses.
So why doesn’t everyone just send out an “upgrade” or a “patch” for IPv6 right now and get it over with?
Well, unfortunately things are not quite that simple.
IPv4 and IPv6 are two different languages.
Let’s look at two examples. The following is an example of a hypothetical IP address under the current IPv4 system….
Under IPv6, IP addresses will look much different. The following is a hypothetical example of an IP address under the new system….
The big problem is that the vast majority of Internet equipment currently in use around the world has no way to process the new language.
As the new system is implemented, all kinds of compatibility problems could surface. A recent article posted on Salon explained it this way….
As Internet service providers run out of IPv4 addresses, they’ll have to give subscribers IPv6 addresses. The challenge lies in connecting them to websites that have only IPv4 addresses. In essence, IPv4 and IPv6 are different “languages.” Several “translation” technologies are available, but they haven’t been tested on a large scale.
But change has to come to the system. Once the IPv4 addresses run out we are going to be facing some huge problems.
Experts are saying that as IPv4 addresses run out, this may create a huge “traffic jam” on the Internet. In fact, some are even claiming that it may get to the point where you will not be able to get online until someone else goes offline.
However, the transition to IPv6 promises to be painful as well. As the new system is implemented you may encounter very slow surfing and there may be many websites that you just cannot get to at all.
It would be hard to understate how much of a technical headache this could all be. A recent article in The Guardian explained some of the headaches that we will soon be facing….
However, an IPv6 address is in effect unreadable by equipment set up to handle IPv4 addresses, which comprises pretty much every piece of computer and network equipment on sale, apart from newer computers running Microsoft’s Windows 7 or Apple’s Mac OS X, and most smartphones. Older system such as PCs running the ten-year-old Windows XP – still in widespread use – and the broadband modems used in households cannot understand IPv6 addresses without special configuration that would defeat most users.
Are you starting to get the picture?
There is a good chance that your current computer is not equipped to handle IPv6.
There is a good chance that your current router is not equipped to handle IPv6.
So is there any way for us to fix these problems individually?
Well, according to the article in The Guardian, we are going to have to rely on ISPs and router manufacturers to handle most of these compatibility issues….
The onus is on ISPs and router manufacturers to provide ways around the problem, including upgrades to their services and hardware. You might have to upgrade your computer’s operating system, and you might have to buy a new router.
Hopefully this transition to IPv6 will go a lot smoother than some of the most pessimistic experts are projecting. Tens of millions of Americans are highly dependent on the Internet and if it gets really snarled up it could have a dramatic impact on the economy.
Unfortunately, we live at a time when change is inevitable. The Internet is constantly changing and not all of those changes are for the better.
Canada’s largest telecommunications company, Bell, has gotten approval from the government to institute “pay-as-you-go” Internet meters. Other major Canadian ISPs are expected to follow suit. Under this new system, Canadians will pay for content per gigabyte and there will be much lower caps on Internet usage.
Canadians have been expressing great outrage over all this, but right now it looks like these changes are moving forward.
Changes of a different sort are coming to the U.S. Internet.
As I have written about previously, the Obama administration is proposing the development of a “universal Internet ID” program that would watch, track, monitor and even potentially control your activity on the Internet.
Someday, you may need a license to get on the Internet, a license to make a website and you may need to watch your “Internet meter” to make sure that you can afford to pay for the minutes that you are spending online.
Not only that, but governments all over the world are starting to really restrict free speech on the Internet. We all saw what has happened over the last couple of weeks in Egypt. Someday a lot of the information that you can currently find online may be taken down by government censors. Nothing is guaranteed in this day and age.
So enjoy the current form of the Internet while it lasts.
Change is coming, and it may not be for the better.