It's official. We've run out of Internet.
On February 3, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority -- a branch of ICANN -- allocated the last available IPv4 addresses. The only thing that can stop what some oh-so-clever bloggers are calling the IPocalypse from happening: a timely global switch to IPv6.
Eventually, without IPv6 upgrades, the Internet will deteriorate. In a "best-case" scenario, devices would be forced to share IP space, instead of having unique identifiers. The practical effects of this would include the following:
- Systems handling multiple connections over shared addresses would slow down and become less reliable.
- New online services working on shared space would not work as well as older sites. In addition to being frustrating for consumers, this could result in de facto oligopolies of well established online service providers -- to the economic devastation of start-ups. Taken to the extreme, this could lead to additional laws and regulations restricting the economic activities of the older companies.
- Online applications would be unable to tell you apart from any neighbors with whom you share an IP address. If your neighbor got blacklisted, so would you. If your neighbor were to download illegal material, law enforcement might bust down your door.
In a worst-case scenario, new devices would not be able to connect to the Internet at all. Either way, any failure for a region's ISPs to migrate to IPv6 in time would significantly impede the growth and evolution of the Internet (for instance, meeting exponentially rising video demand and the realization of the Internet of Things).
Of course, ISPs aren't the only ones that must adapt. Everyone will have to make the change. Manufacturers must build and ship IPv6-ready devices. Businesses, governments, and consumers will have to upgrade their equipment and install new software if they haven't already.
Remarkably, ICANN seems disproportionately unconcerned about the whole matter, if its Website and press release are any indication. ďNo one was caught off guard by this," says ICANN President and CEO Rod Beckstrom. "The Internet technical community has been planning for IPv4 depletion for some time."
Beckstrom's observations are pretty spot on -- if you define "planning for IPv4 depletion" as "mostly sitting around and whining about ROI while hoarding as much IPv4 space as possible." Very few ISPs, Websites, and organizations have made any effort at all to upgrade to IPv6. The public sector has slacked off, too -- notably in the US, the UK, and throughout Africa.
In the US, the federal government was originally required to upgrade its systems to IPv6 by June 30, 2008. When it failed to do that, it projected completion by 2010. In September 2010, the deadline for full IPv6 deployment was pushed to the end of 2014. The situation isn't much better at the state level.
The scary part? Despite all this, the US has still been considered among the top six countries for IPv6 use for at least the past two years. China -- once a notorious late adopter -- is also among the top nations for IPv6 use, thanks to its ambitious five-year Internet development plan giving the West a run for its money.
Hopefully, the upcoming IPv6 Day will raise awareness of the need for total, expeditious IPv6 migration. IPv6 migration itself will require a lot of education, coordination, commitment... and time, which has all but run out.
We have been talking about the need to upgrade to IPv6 for years now. Unfortunately, that's all anyone has been doing about it -- talking. Meanwhile, the world population grew... and with it, the Internet.
Today, there are over 7 billion people in the world. More than 2 billion of those people are already connected to the Internet, many via multiple devices, each with its own IP address. There are only about 4 billion IPv4 addresses, however -- not nearly enough to meet upcoming global demand.
And here we are. It's 2011; we were supposed to have widespread IPv6 adoption by now. The fact that we don't is inexcusable.
ó Joe Stanganelli is founder and principal of Beacon Hill Law, a Boston-based general practice law firm. He is also a writer and freelance marketing consultant.