Practical Technology

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The Internet’s IPv4 Gas Tank is running on empty


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.

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