Internet running out of digital addresses

Cables plugged into modem


Kai Ryssdal: I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that you probably use at least one of the following: a smartphone, a laptop or an iPad. And that's in addition to the desktop computer you use maybe at home and one at the office.

Each and every one of those devices has something called an Internet Protocol address, or an IP address. It's a little bit like a phone number that lets you dial up the Internet. And you know how sometimes a place runs out of phone numbers and has to add area codes to make calls go through? In about a week, the most common type of IP addresses are going to run out as well.

Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports.

Jennifer Collins: Today, I went looking for my computer's unique IP address.

Collins typing: Click on that. Oh, and my IP address is...

OK, it's not the most exciting thing. Dan Campbell is a consultant with network engineering company Millennia Systems.

Dan Campbell: It's probably the most trivial and should be the least expensive part of a service.

Most IP addresses -- four billion of them -- are in our primary system. Those are about to run out. So Campbell says many companies will try to get customers to share.

Bear with me here. If an IP address is kind of like a phone number, sharing them is kind of like a using "party line." Remember the '50s movie "Pillow Talk"? Doris Day and Rock Hudson starred as neighbors with a shared phone line.

Clip from "Pillow Talk": They had absolutely nothing in common except a party line. "Will you please get off this line?"

Martin Levy of Internet service provider Hurricane Electric says sharing creates new problems.

Martin Levy: It could be that the streaming of a video is not going to be as smooth because you're competing literally against your neighbor.

Levy says there is a more permanent fix -- another IP system is available. And it may have more addresses than there are stars in the sky. But companies have been slow to change because it means new equipment and training costs. Still Levy says staying put could mean lousy Internet service and could be costlier in the long run.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.
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I am afraid that you have been taken in by the spin doctors. IPv6 itself is already causing a crisis that most proponents either don't understand or don't want you to know about while they are desperately trying to fix it.
So far their efforts have been less than successful. The approaches they are trying are fundamentally flawed.
At the root of the issues is that the Internet is an incomplete demo living on 30 years of band-aids and Moore's Law and it is catching up to it. Think of it as if instead of OS X or Windows we were all still on DOS.

Take care,
John Day
(I have been on the 'Net since 1970 and know what I am taking about.)

For starters, the writer of this article is woefully uninformed and demonstrates a poor understanding of IPv4 and its successor IPv6 which was consequently not mentioned. Also, several of the commenter's are still parroting old falsities.

The impending "doom" as it were is clearly not a sky is falling situation. IANA, the group that manages IP allocation, is days from issuing the last unallocated blocks of IPs to the Regional Internet Registries. RIR's allocate IP addresses to ISPs and other providers. It is currently estimated that the first RIR will run out of addresses around October.

The implications are, it is going to be harder and harder for new users, companies, websites, etc. to have a publicly accessible IP address. ISPs are going to turn to transition technologies and "Carrier Grade NAT" to prolong the life of IPv4 even further.

Primarily speaking about NAT; This is a fundamental break in how the internet is designed to operate. Connections are supposed to be end-to-end, not mangled or intercepted by someone in the middle.

At this point in the game, it is ignorant to make statements that 'everything will be fine'. Propagating that mindset will only cause more difficulty along the way. The transition to IPv6 isn't an option. It will happen and it is just a matter of how long will it take. IANA running out is just the first major marker along that road.

15 years ago we broke the Internet so that we could keep using IPv4 addresses because we knew there wouldn't be enough. NAT became commonplace in the interim as IPv6 was developed.

Now there are no more IPv4 addresses left and NAT has broken the net from its original principle (that one device, anywhere, can talk to another device - an Internet).

It's time to move to IPv6 and stop using these hacks and kludges that are needed with IPv4.

I'll give Levy the benefit of the doubt; explaining the vagaries of Network Address Translation and IP routing in one sound bite is probably too much to ask. But he seems to confuse the IP exhaustion issue (a routing issue) with stuttery online video (a bandwidth/latency issue). NAT is something like having your local post office scribble over the return address on mail you send with its own address, keeping around enough paperwork that it can properly deliver any replies you get to your real address. Unless it gets so bogged down with the paperwork and sorting that it can't keep up with mail coming in and out, it's a completely separate issue from how many trucks' worth of mail it can exchange with the rest of the world! NAT certainly has its own share of issues, but this isn't one of them.

Sorry, Jennifer, but you got this one completely wrong.

Every computer does not have a globally unique IP address. Internet service providers issue you an IP addresses based on their own internal network design. Then, all traffic is masked behind one or more truly unique IP addresses owned by the ISP. Traffic from 1,000 different computer will "share" the same public IP address.

If you have a WiFi router at home, the same thing happens on your local network. Your router is issued an IP address by your ISP which is shared by all computers in your house. Your router in turn issues your computer an IP address for your home network, likely using the same set of addresses used by almost every WiFi router in the world.

The only computers that need truly unique IP addresses are those directly accessible on the web - things like email and web servers. Even then, most servers are consolidated behind a single public address. Amazon.com's main website has a single IP address, but you can be sure that they have thousands of actual servers behind that single address. None of those servers need globally unique IP addresses; they only need to be unique amongst themselves.

To continue your telephone metaphor, nobody is "calling" you directly. "Sharing" an IP address in this way has absolutely nothing to do with bandwidth contention and won't affect the speed of your downloads or Netflix streaming. The "party line" scenario is known as Network Address Translation (NAT) and it's how most of the internet already functions.

Running out of IP addresses has been a bogeyman for over 15 years but if we correctly use and allocate the over 4 billion public IP addresses in the current system there is no cause for concern. Much of the problem stems from the way large public IP address ranges were handed out to businesses and universities in the early days of the Internet, often is blocks of over 16 million. Reclaim those address and make better use of future allocation and you have a system with a lot of life left in it.

Yeah Kai...out on a limb...in my case at least. I took two computer courses in college when the standard was a punch card machine and a room size mainframe. I had to relearn computers in 1992 when I went to use the one at the library. Since taking a couple of courses- and a LOT of independent study and hardware and software (DOS and applications) work (yes, I keep up with Windows) I have owned nothing but a desktop, and don't plan otherwise. Among other reasons for this, it is rather difficult for a desktop to 'walk off'.

People have been talking about running out of IP addresses for the past 15 years, and it would have come about had not several technologies, namely Network Address Translation (NAT) and Dynamic Host Control Protocol (DHCP) been implemented with great success. What the story failed to point out is that we have been sharing IP's (more or less) without noticing for the past 10 years. Moreover, the analogy of a shared line between two people is a little misleading. It's not that we're on the internet unable to access our favorite websites because our neighbor is using the same IP. It's more like there is a neighborhood bank of 700 payphones for a 1000 people. Its a lot less likely that all 700 phones will be used at inopportune times than it would be for a single shared phone. (Even that doesn't do it justice, but I don't want to get too technical)
My point is not that IPv6 is not the way of the future. Rather, it is that, once again, the death of IPv4 seems greatly exaggerated.

Seems to add another layer to the Net Neutrality debate. What happens if ISPs decide to be lazy and not adopt the new technology? What incentives do they have to adopt the new technology when most are some sort of monopoly?

Sorry, gotta ding Jennifer. That was a lame story. First off, IP addresses are 10 digits, not 9 (4,294,967,296 ). Second off, how about a little context. How long before the new IPv6 is fully implemented. Arrrrrgh.

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