4.3 billion. Not enough

February 17, 2011

February 2011. This date will likely go down in history as the time when the Internet ran out of IP addresses.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the non profit group which assigns IP addresses worldwide, recently announced that the last available internet addresses in the current pool had just been handed out.

IP address
Although most people connect to the Internet through a Website address such as or, in the backend, each Website has its own unique string of numbers and decimal points.

With more than 4.3 billion IP addresses, how is it possible that the world has run out of IP addresses? IP addresses are not only for Websites. Every device that connects to the Internet requires its own IP address. Let’s look at the situation: There are roughly 7 billion people on the planet. An IP address is a unique number that is assigned to every high tech device that connects directly to the Internet (not going through a router). So, essentially, your home pc, your laptop, your wireless router and your smartphone (not to mention every web server and every https, aka SSL enabled, e-commerce website out there) all these devices require one unique IP address to access the Internet.

Fortunately, IANA had anticipated this historic day for some time and has a new batch of IP addresses all ready to go. The solution to the problem is a new IP address format called IPv6 (the current one being IPv4). This new format allows for a huge number of IP addresses; apparently enough to last forever. I, myself, am a fan of the famous motto: “Never say never”, but it seems that this time they may be right.

The IPv6 configuration which has, in theory, been all set to go since 1999, utilizes a longer string of both numbers and characters. The estimated number of IP addresses for this new scheme is 340 undecillion. To picture how large this number really is, imagine one million then add 30 more zeros.

What does this mean to everyday Internet users? Will you still be able to blog and tweet? Chances are that the present IP address pool coming to an end will not impact the person watching YouTube on their IPad or facebooking on their smartphone. The major adjustments will be on the shoulders of the IP providers, Website owners and network operators who will have to ensure that the existing systems can manage the new addresses and correctly direct online traffic. It is estimated that the complete change to IPv6 will take years. Aside from that it should be smooth surfing.


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