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To 4,294,967,296 and Beyond – Under 10% of IPv4 Space Remains: Adoption of IPv6 Is Essential

29 January 2010

History of IPv4

It has long been anticipated, but the available pool of unallocated Internet addresses using the older IPv4 protocol – which holds a total of slightly more than four billion IP addresses - has now dipped to below the 10 percent mark, meaning that there are only a bit over 400 million IP addresses left in the global pool of unallocated addresses.

The IPv4 protocol defines the unique numeric address number assigned to each computer that is connected to the Internet. The Internet was developed in the early 1980s and has served us well for about three decades. With a bit over 400 million addresses remaining, the IPv4 address space is expected to be fully allocated in about two years’ time, although predicting an exact date is not practical as this will depend upon human behaviour.

“It is important that the public understand that many of the IPv4 addresses that have been allocated have not yet been distributed to the public, so there will be no immediate global shortage of IPv4 addresses at the consumer level,” said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN’s CEO and President.

IPv4 Distribution System

IPv4 addresses are distributed in a hierarchical system. As the IANA functions operator, ICANN allocates IPv4 blocks to the five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) around the world, and the RIRs then allocate smaller blocks to ISPs and other network operators. It is the ISPs and other Internet operators who assign the addresses to the individual Internet connections used by most computer users.

Recent growth in Internet deployment in the Asia Pacific region, particularly in China, has resulted in strong growth in allocations by that region’s RIR, APNIC (Asia Pacific Network Information Centre).

Consensus Policies Developed in Regional Forums

ICANN’s process for allocating IPv4 blocks to RIRs is in accordance with the global policy that was developed through the RIRs’ regional public policy forums. This process is very similar to those used for developing other ICANN policies, like the GNSO and ccNSO. The RIRs allocate addresses to ISPs and other network operators according to the policies that have been developed in these forums and which include participants from industry, governments and civil society. These forums are open to participation by anyone with access to e-mail.

Bottom-up Policy Making Process – Policy Developed by Users in a Multi-stakeholder Environment

Deploy IPv6 Now

“This is the time for the Internet community to act,” said Rod Beckstrom, ICANN’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “For the global Internet to grow and prosper without limitation, we need to encourage the rapid and widespread adoption of the IPv6 protocol.”

IPv6 is the new system the Internet engineering community has developed to cope with the increased demand for IP addresses.

Technical experts agree that the single biggest advantage of IPv6 is its capacity to accommodate Internet growth. For example, if all IPv4 address could fit within a BlackBerry, it would take a storage device the physical size of the Earth to contain all available IPv6 addresses.

Why IPv6 Is Essential for Internet Growth?

Developed in the 1990s, IPv6 has been available for allocation to ISPs since 1999. An increasing number of ISPs have been deploying IPv6 over the past decade, as have governments and businesses. The biggest attraction of IPv6 is the enormous address space it provides. Instead of just 4 billion IPv4 addresses – fewer than the number of people on the planet – there are 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 IPv6 addresses. An easier way to think of this number is 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses. This vastness was purposely designed so that all of the conceivable networks now and in the future would have enough addresses for the multitude of devices that can now be connected to them, such as mobile phones, general-purpose computers, cameras and e-book readers. But all sorts of devices that aren’t intended to be used by people will also soon have IP addresses. Examples include utility meters and household appliances that communicate with providers to find out the cheapest time to buy power.

Similarly, IPv6 can allow people to use off-the-shelf equipment to securely connect to a myriad of home automation technologies and other systems remotely. There is no need for special gateways and proxies when every system can be securely accessed over IPSEC and operated directly.

As such, adopting IPv6 addresses clearly offers a number of advantages:

  • There will be plenty of IP addresses for everyone.
  • Anything connected to a network will be able to have a unique address.
  • The new larger address space can open the door to a whole new generation of online devices and services.

“Quite simply, it comes down to the simple fact that IPv6 is the future of the Internet,” said Beckstrom. “The Internet now defines communication and commerce and to accommodate its explosive worldwide growth we need to act now to guarantee an online future that accommodates growth with few limitations.”

To learn more about IPv6, go to:
http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/factsheet-ipv6-26oct07.pdf [PDF, 402K]