You may have heard that the Internet is quickly running out of IP addresses. If you’re even slightly technical, you have probably also heard that a new IP numbering scheme called IPv6 is on the horizon and it will solve all of our IP address issues…but will it? The short answer is yes, but like everything else in life, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
Let’s start by discussing our current IP address scheme – IPv4. IPv4 is expressed in 4 octets, for example 192.168.1.1 (say it like 192 dot 168 dot 1 dot 1) where each number between the dot is an octet. When this addressing scheme was created in 1980, it was the fourth revision in the development of the Internet protocol and was the first version to be widely deployed. By using these 4 octets it gave IPv4 the ability to have 4,294,967,296 IP address. At the time this was deployed the engineers nodded their collective heads and agreed that 4.2 billion IP addresses would be more than enough and we would never run out. Unfortunately, what they could not foresee was the Internet boom nor the fact that so many devices today utilize IP addresses besides computers, routers and servers. With the explosion of smart devices, including TVs, appliances (does my toaster REALLY need an IP address?) and especially cell phones, IP address usage has skyrocketed. In February 2010, the International Telecommunications Union announced that the number of cell phones worldwide is now over 4.6 billion with “smart phones” (phones that run an operating system and require an IP address) making up a larger and larger chunk of that number. Smart phone usage is growing by leaps and bounds. In the first half of 2010 vendors shipped a total of 119.4 MILLION smart phones, an increase of 55.5% over the first half of 2009.
Now we see the issue… IPv4 space is running out and at an extremely quick rate. Estimates of how long we have before we run out of IPv4 space range from 200-400 days.
So why don’t we just roll out IPv6 space immediately? Unfortunately it’s not as easy as flipping a switch. In order to fully roll out IPv6, EVERY device in the WORLD that utilizes an IP address has to support IPv6 or they won’t be able to access the Internet. There are still many routers, PCs, and servers that are just old enough that they don’t have support for IPv6. Many cable and other Internet providers (ISPs) are looking at doing major upgrades to make sure they can supply their customers with Internet access. NationalNet has worked closely with our providers and are doing both IPv4 and IPv6 with all of them at this time. We are also running IPv6 internally on many devices and are in full readiness to move everything to IPv6 when the time is right.
So, after all of this, are we sure that we have enough IPv6 IP addresses? We certainly don’t ever want to be in this predicament again. When the engineers rolled out IPv4, they didn’t anticipate the issues we have now with IPv4, so did they plan correctly this time? Just how many addresses are there in the IPv6 implementation? Well, that’s easy – it’s 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 IP addresses.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking…that number is too big for you to even get your head around, so let’s say it in words. It’s three hundred forty undecillion, two hundred eighty-two decillion, three hundred sixty-six nonillion, nine hundred twenty octillion, nine hundred thirty-eight septillion, four hundred sixty-three sextillion, four hundred sixty-three quintillion, three hundred seventy-four quadrillion, six hundred seven trillion, four hundred thirty-one billion, seven hundred sixty-eight million, two hundred eleven thousand, four hundred fifty-six.
Yes, I know – that makes it even harder to understand, so Tomas, our Director of Technical Services, broke it down for me. When we received our IPv6 allocation a few months back I was trying to figure out how many IP addresses we had. I knew we had 79,228,162,514,264,337,593,543,950,336 IPs in our allocation but that’s a hard number to wrap your head around so here’s what Tomas told me.
“If you remember, I said that Internet had about 4 billion IPs, so NationalNet’s IPv6 allocation is equivalent to 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 copies of the current Internet.”
OK that number was still too big…so Tomas broke it down even further. “If NationalNet decided to give a copy of the current Internet to everyone on the planet out of our IP space, we could give each person 3,074,457,345 internets a piece.” Now that’s a LOT of IP space. Based on the allocation we have, which is just a small fraction of the overall space, I would say the engineers got it right and we shouldn’t ever run out. Also, if you’re testing IPv6 at home with your current ISP, we do have an IPv6 web site at Also, if you’re testing IPv6 at home with your current ISP, we do have an IPv6 web site at http://ipv6.nationalnet.com.