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US IP Addresses Could Run Out In 2011

September 29, 2010

The surging popularity of smartphones, tablet computers, and other online-capable devices could exhaust the U.S. supply of unique Internet addresses by the end of 2011, an official with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has said.

According to Reuters reporter Jasmin Melvin, the primary architecture governing the Internet–Internet Protocol Version Four 4, or IPv4 for short–is limited to 4.3 billion unique IP addresses. Those identifiers are going fast, Melvin adds, thanks largely to increased use of gadgets like the Research In Motion-developed BlackBerry and the Apple iPad.

“IP addresses underpin and connect broadband and IP-based network infrastructures,” Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information, said during an NTIA conference on Tuesday. “Without IP addresses we could not attach computers and smartphones to the Internet, and we could not route traffic to and from those devices.”

“Without an adequate supply of the addresses, we could not design cloud computing networks or the smart grid,” he added. “As we move to a world where everything can be networked to everything else and all the innovation that will result, we need plenty of IP addresses.”

To that effect, the NTIA is scrambling to implement Internet Protocol Version Six (IPv6), an upgraded version of the communications protocol that, according to Strickling, can support “340 trillion trillion trillion” IP addresses.

IPv6, Melvin reports, is currently more readily available throughout Europe and in China. However, the Reuters reporter warns, “The transition may not be easy. It could cost businesses a lot of money, and the new technology might not work well with the technology they use now.”

“That is exactly what brings us together this morning–in this case to discuss issues related to the adoption and deployment of Internet Protocol Version Six or IPv6,” Strickling told those on hand at the conference, which was held in Washington and also featured White House CTO Aneesh Chopra, White House CIO Vivek Kundra, and representatives from Comcast, Verizon, and Google.

“IPv6″¦ represents a new generation of technology for network growth and development and innovation,” the Assistant Secretary said. “So what does this all actually mean?  Well for consumers not much right now. They can continue to use existing devices and IPv4 addresses”¦ But for industry in particular–smart-phone and router manufactures, transport providers, Internet service providers, and chief information and technology officers throughout the industry–action is needed.”

According to Melvin, Kundra has issued a directive seeking all agencies within the American government to upgrade their services to IPv6 by the end of the 2012 fiscal year. That could be too late, however–the Reuters reporter also estimated that 94.5% of the current IPv4 addresses have been used, and that the remaining 5.5% will be “allocated among the Regional Internet Registries by next summer.”

“We expect that there will be no addresses available in our registries to give to Internet service providers by the end of 2011,” John Curran, president and chief executive of the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), told Melvin on Tuesday.

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