The accelerating decline of IPv4 address space could end up increasing the cost of Internet access unless the industry speeds up the migration to IPv6 in the near future, according to Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) chief scientist, Geoff Huston.
The official representative of the five regional bodies that oversee distribution of Internet number resources — the Number Resource Organization (NRO) — has announced the remaining allocation of IPv4 addresses had dropped below 10 per cent.
IPv6 is a long-awaited next generation Internet Protocol that uses a 128-bit addressing scheme that will provide billions of IP addresses. It is promoted as the replacement for the existing communications protocol IPv4, which uses 32-bit addresses and can support about 4 billion IP addresses.
According to Huston, the decline in IPv4 address availability is largely driven by the Asia-Pacific region's economic strength and increasing mobile Internet use.
"The global recovery is putting pressure on the IPv4 address pool, no doubt," Huston told Computerworld. "We don't have much time to run no matter what. The current estimates are that the central pool, which is a global pool, will have handed out its last address block to one of the regional operators by September of next year, which is probably going to be APNIC.
"Interestingly, APNIC is responsible for almost half of the IP address allocations that are happening in the world. Part of that is because some of the Asian economies, particularly China and its build-out of infrastructure, which includes not only railways and bridges but also Internet, is proceeding at a pretty incredible pace. What that means for the rest of the world is that predictions on when it exhausts is remaining constant, if not accelerating slightly."
In Australia, 2.6 million new IPv4 addresses were handed out in 2009. Canada and the Netherlands allocated 2 million each and the USA allocated 38 million. Each of these markets represent mature Internet users and Huston contends the continuing rise in smartphones, such as the iPhone and other mobile devices, will put pressure on IPv4.
"It's not that there won't be addresses [IPv4] to be had, but the price will make folks' eyes water," he said. "Because the only source of addresses will be someone who already has them and, in a market where scarcity dominates, you start to get an entirely different pricing structure."
If service providers and manufacturers aren't able to supply IPv6 addresses or enabled equipment, the cost of obtaining an existing IPv4 address will likely be passed onto end users.
"The ISP will have to buy addresses on a market that has gone mad. One view would be we are all sophisticated buyers and this would be just fine. But anyone who remembers the auctioning of GSM spectrum would remember it caused a couple of companies to go broke as they handled the auctions so badly," Huston said.
APNIC and its associated bodies have lobbied the ICT industry, government and supply chains to ramp up the move to IPv6 for some time.
ISPs, however, have been reluctant to move across to IPv6. Late last year Internode began trialling IPv6 services in native mode on its national ADSL network but many other ISPs told Computerworld they have no intention of running IPv6 trials in the short term.
A recent survey commissioned by the European Commission also found that about 92 per cent of ISPs are either not using IPv6 or report little IPv6 traffic on their network.
While there are ways to continue using IPv4, such as with the deployment of network address translators (NATs) into ISP networks, Huston argued such measures are only stop-gap approaches and it would be better to move to IPv6 for long-term Internet stability.
He added each part of the Internet ecosystem, from the ISP to the consumer, needed to look at promoting the adoption of IPv6 to ensure preparedness.
"Fixing cars by watching them crash is a pretty lousy way to run an industry," he said, referring to the lack of trials to date. "We need to avoid the carnage and prepare before we see these problems."