December 01, 2010, 4:54 PM — The world is running out of IPv4 Internet addresses, without which the Internet can't function in its existing form.
This has been known for some time, of course, but the situation has become a little more urgent with the news that in October and November, nearly all of the remaining blocks of addresses were assigned to various Regional Internet Registries (RIR) around the world.
The allocations brings the total number of available blocks to an almost depleted level, and potentially triggers an "end days" agreement in which most of the remaining blocks are automatically assigned to the five RIRs.
In other words, there's nothing left. Almost all possible IPv4 Internet addresses have been assigned--all 4,294,967,296 of them.
Although of concern on a global scale, the IPv4 depletion is less of an immediate concern on the ground in homes and businesses. The addresses assigned to the RIRs are handed onto Internet Service Providers and organizations within each of the countries the RIRs cover. As such, there's no immediate crisis until the RIRs themselves have assigned all their addresses.
However, if the number of Internet devices keeps growing (and it's extremely certain it will, with the boom in smartphones and tablet devices) then we're almost certainly going to see this within a year or two.
The solution is to switch to IPv6, which has been widely heralded for about 10 years and brings with it about 340 trillion addresses--arguably enough to last the world for a century or two. The trouble is that organizations are extremely hesitant to do so. The number of Websites offering IPv6 entrances barely breaks into the two-digit range.
Additionally, you might have noticed that your ISP has yet to send you any correspondence about the need to migrate to IPv6. I recently switched to a new service provider and received a cutting-edge new router, for example, but there's no sign of any IPv6 functionality--either on the LAN-side on the hub or gateway component, or the WAN-side, or on the router or DSL connection.
Most major operating systems are entirely compatible with IPv6 and have been for some time, although without widespread deployment it's not yet possible to see how effective such technology is. It's not cynical to expect a bug or two.