October 18, 2010, 1:18 PM — With the Internet's largest-ever upgrade looming, network operators are using up address space based on the current standard -- known as IPv4 -- much faster than they are adopting IPv6, the next-generation standard.
The Internet's regional registries, which dole out blocks of IPv4 and IPv6 address space to carriers, will announce on Monday that less than 5% of the world's IPv4 address space remains unallocated.
IPv4 is the Internet's main communications protocol. It uses 32-bit addresses and can support 4.3 billion devices connected directly to the Internet. IPv6, on the other hand, uses 128-bit addresses and supports a virtually unlimited number of devices - 2 to the 128th power.
Overall, more than 200 million IPv4 addresses have been allocated from the so-called free pool of available IPv4 addresses since January 2010, with most of the addresses being snapped up by Asian carriers.
Allocation of the remaining blocks of IPv4 addresses is "imminent," according to Axel Pawlik, chairman of the Number Resource Organization, which represents the five regional registries.
"It is critical that all Internet stakeholders take definitive action now to ensure the timely adoption of IPv6," Pawlik said in a statement.
The NRO warns that the last IPv4 address blocks will be allocated from the free pool to the regional registries in early 2011. Experts predict that the registries will hand out these addresses to network operators by the end of 2011, leading to full-fledged depletion of IPv4 addresses.
Once IPv4 addresses are depleted, ISPs must give their new customers IPv6 addresses or use carrier-grade network address translation to share a single IPv4 address among multiple customers.
Despite the looming depletion of IPv4 address space, carriers are sending only a trickle of IPv6 traffic across their backbone networks.
Arbor Networks said last week in a blog post that IPv6 traffic represents less than one-twentieth of 1% of Internet traffic as of October 2010. This data came from 110 ISPs that participate in Arbor's ongoing Internet traffic measurement study.