Update: IPv4 Countdown – the end is here (sort of)

Posted by Paul Szyndler on 18 February 2011

Just in case you missed the news; I thought I would draft a quick update to last month’s post about the pending exhaustion of IPv4 addresses. Well, it has happened. And we are all still here.

On 3 February, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the global administrator of Internet numbering resources, allocated the last /8 blocks to the five Regional Internet Registries.

The event was triggered by the allocation of the 7th and 6th to-last /8’s to APNIC at the end of January and the resultant activation of a consensus policy developed by the RIRs that requires each RIR receive one of the last five /8 blocks.

The event was commemorated in a strangely festive and choreographed ceremony and press conference in Miami. Here’s the video to prove it.

So – what now? Well, the next few steps are inevitable and beyond that, we enter the realm of speculation.

Each /8 is between 16 and 17 million unique addresses. So there are still a few left. Although APNIC walked away from the ceremony with three shiny-new /8’s, it is also the RIR that burns through addresses the fastest, given high demand from rapidly expanding economies in the region. So it is still likely to be the first RIR to run out of addresses. If RIRs continue to hand out v4 addresses according to their current policies and distribution rates, their reserves will run dry sometime around August or September.

ISPs will then need to rely on their dwindling supplies. Many Australian ISPs and large corporate users are well-positioned with significant reserves but it is likely that some degree of rationing will occur.

Anyone with a grasp of even the most basic high school economics concepts will be able to guess what is likely to happen next. High demand, low supply and perceived scarcity could lead to prices being placed on IPv4 addresses and an increase in grey market trading. ISPs will also be under pressure to use NAT even more heavily.

At some point (many argue its already upon us) rising costs and possible network instability will render the business model for sustaining IPv4 unmanageable. At which point, even the most technically-disinclined CEO will gladly rubber-stamp the more cost-effective and future-proof transition to IPv6.

And the world as we know it will be saved: at least until we all find some way to exhaust 340 undecillion addresses.