My daughter called me yesterday because she saw a Fox News story that the Internet had run out of space.
Those of you who are laughing – there’s actually quite a bit of truth in it. Those of you who are concerned, it’s not as bad as you might think. Here are the facts, with as little techno-babble as possible.
The regional organization tasked with assigning IP addresses in North America, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), is now wait-listing all applicants because it has almost exhausted its supply of IP addresses under the current way of doing things.
IP addresses are the numerical labels that identify any device connected to the Internet. These addresses enable smartphones, tablets, PCs and servers to find and communicate with one another. Each IP address is a unique label that provides a destination for information as it travels through the Internet.
Under the current system, called Internet protocol version 4 (IPv4), addresses are designated by four series of numbers ranging from 0 to 255, like 188.8.131.52. This has been in use since the early days of the Internet, and almost all of the 4.3 billion possible labels of IPv4 are already in use – meaning the Internet has essentially run out of real estate.
Here’s the good news – a new system to provide more IP addresses was developed in the 1990s, called Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6), and it has already been deployed. IPv6 consists of eight groups of both letters and numbers – like 2a03:2880:f022:6:face:b00c:0:2 (the IPv6 address for Facebook’s servers). It provides roughly 340 trillion trillion trillion (or 340-undecillion) unique combinations, an almost limitless number of addresses.
The deployment of IPv6 means that almost anything on the planet can connect to the Internet, paving the way for smart appliances, fabrics and bigger smart grids. IPv6 is not only faster and more direct, but consumers will barely notice the transition.
IPv6 is already installed in most devices, and most websites have made themselves accessible through IPv6, but service providers have been slow to adopt the new protocol. According to Google, which collects statistics about IPv6 adoption, only 21% of all Internet traffic in the U.S. uses IPv6 – and the numbers are even lower worldwide.
The Internet is undergoing a necessary evolution, and Internet service providers are finally feeling the heat to adapt and move forward.