IPv4 Countdown – the end is nigh

Posted by Paul Szyndler on 18 January 2011

Anyone with even a passing interest in the technical workings of the Internet will be well aware of the ongoing, rapid depletion of IPv4 addresses.

IP addresses are numerical identifiers used by computers and network-enabled devices to locate each other and interconnect over the Internet. The more human-friendly Domain Name System (DNS) layers over these IP addresses to allow us to type names such as auda.org.au into our browser, instead of remembering strings like

What had initially seemed like an inexhaustible resource of 4,294,967,296 (232) possible unique IPv4 addresses is now about to run dry.

Last week, Geoff Huston, author and Chief Scientist at APNIC posted his annual update on the state of the Internet and numbering resources. Geoff has long tracked the exhaustion of IPv4 and contributed greatly to the technical and policy debate surrounding the development and adoption of its successor, IPv6.

Geoff noted that, in 2010, the rate of allocation of IPv4 addresses accelerated considerably. The total number of IPv4 addresses allocated by the Regional Internet Registries was 31% higher than 2009 and this can be put down to a number of factors, including the long-predicted stockpiling of v4 addresses, a reinvigoration of investment in new network infrastructure post-GFC, and the unabated growth in demand for mobile devices.

The bad news? IANA, the central address repository that grants allocations to the RIRs is down to around 33 million unallocated addresses. By any reasonable forecast, the well will be dry later this month or early next. While the RIRs have their own reserves, they too will begin running out of addresses by mid-year. So while the massive growth in demand for mobile internet services and new network infrastructure will inevitably continue, it will no longer be possible to serve that demand via IPv4.

Geoff has also observed that a very small number of individual allocations represent a significant proportion of total allocated addresses – of 7758 allocations, the largest 85 represented 50% of total addresses.

This paints an interesting picture in terms of market consolidation and the entrenchment of a few, large industry players, raising even more interesting questions regarding the potential implications this may have on the openness and neutrality of the Internet in the coming years.

Geoff’s thought-provoking analysis is at: