The Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) held a conference on February 3 to commemorate the last batch of available IPv4 addresses. I’m reading a lot headlines that describe this event as the approaching end of the Internet. I spent some time in the computer science lab at Colorado State University, and I am hearing all sorts of things about the “end of the Internet as we know it” from students and professionals alike. However, I think there’s a big misconception about this problem. All of this is strangely reminiscent of the Y2K incident where everyone panicked over nothing. Is this really the end of the Internet? My answer is no, and I’ll explain why.
IPv4 addresses are 32-bit numbers. Since the Internet’s conception, there are 4.3 billion possible IPv4 addresses. These addresses are similar to a mailing address. For example, when I type in the URL of a website the computer is redirected to the IP address that then displays the website’s content on the computer screen.
Although 4.3 billion addresses may seem like a large number, the increasing popularity of wireless technologies such as mobile phones and tablet devices has forced society to outgrow this number. Think about it – we’ve come a long way from the first days of the Internet. Today we’re a society that is connected to the Internet in some way or another, whether it’s your computer or cell phone.
Because of this oncoming predicament, IPv6 was conceived. These addresses are 128-bits, allowing for 340 undecillion (2128) addresses that are waiting for us. Because of this substantial number, chances are that we will never face this problem again. However, there are compatibility issues that will make for a slow transition. For example, data between IPv4 and IPv6 addresses can’t travel to each other easily.
This can be fixed through costly upgrades, however the issue lies in IPv6 adoption. The choice to upgrade to IPv6 has been available for over a decade. However, hardly anyone has invested any effort in adopting the protocol . In a 2008 report by Arbor Networks, results revealed that IPv6 usage experienced an increase in Internet traffic. Despite this, the protocol only accounted for less than one hundredth of 1% of Internet traffic. Since businesses are waiting to upgrade, it is likely that they will suffer if they are looking to upgrade to IPv6 immediately. I advise businesses to create an action plan and phase out outdated IPv4 addresses through the next year. And while these upgrades may be costly, IPv6 costs should fall as adoption increases. For more information on this and for some tidbits on the advantages of IPv6, refer to Mark Minasi’s article “No Sticks, Just Carrots” .
This problem probably won’t affect you unless you are a network provider. ISPs will likely experience the most headaches, as new hardware is required to handle IPv6 addresses. At most, you’ll have to call your ISP and they’ll come to your house with a new wireless router and DSL modem.
Here’s the good news: If your business is equipped with modern software, no more action is required on your part. Since the release of Windows XP, versions of Windows OSs are IPv6 compatible. Also, smartphones including iPhones and Android are already equipped with IPv6 support. So if you’ve been keeping up with the latest technology, it’s likely that you won’t have to do much. For those of you who have been waiting to adopt IPv6, now is definitely the time to make the switch. While some businesses may have a rocky road ahead, this isn’t the end of the Internet.