IP Address Shortage Has ISPs Scrambling For Space

The world will run out of IP addresses by mid-2011. Internet Service Providers and some Internet-based businesses have been slow to gear up to switch to a new system, and that could cause problems. Host Liane Hansen speaks to John Curran, president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, about what's being done.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Bear with us while we go a little deeper into the digital landscape. We're going to talk about IPv4 exhaustion next. Don't be scared - we'll break it down. Here it goes.

Everything that can be connected directly to the Internet - computers, cell phones, game systems, TVs, even cars - has an Internet Protocol, or IP address. IP version 4, or IPv4, has just over 4 billion unique addresses. But with so many Internet-ready devices on the market, the current supply of IP addresses will run out sometime next year.

John Curran is going to explain what that means for Internet users. He's the president and CEO of the American Registry for Internet Numbers, and he's in the studio at member station KPBS in San Diego. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JOHN CURRAN (President, CEO, American Registry for Internet Numbers): Thank you very much.

HANSEN: I think we first need to distinguish between an IP address and a domain name. They're not the same.

Mr. CURRAN: No, they're not. The domain names are what most people think about when they think about website addresses. Something that begins with www; those are the names. Addresses are below that, and they're the numbers that you might see, well, when setting up your computer. And these are how computers talk to each other. We use the names; they use the numbers.

HANSEN: So what happens when all of the version 4 IP addresses run out?

Mr. CURRAN: It's actually interesting. We knew that this was going to happen someday. So back then in the '90s, we worked on a replacement protocol. And the new protocol is IP version 6 - or as we say, IPv6. So the good news is we've thought about this problem, and we have the replacement protocol, and now we have to go turn it on, on all the public Internet servers.

HANSEN: So consumers don't have to purchase any new hardware?

Mr. CURRAN: So if you are connected via cable or fiber, whatever method and whatever provider you have, they have to provide you access to the entire Internet. And they'll manage the equipment behind the scenes for that. It's if you're a business - and that includes small, medium business - that you probably need to think about whether or not your website, wherever that's located, has some work to go through. And in some cases, you may have to talk to whoever's providing that website and ask them, am I ready for IPv6? Are you handling this, or is this something I have to think about?

The good news is IP version 6 has 128-bit address, which is 340 undercillian or 340 trillion, trillion, trillion IP addresses. So, while we did go to IP version 6, we hope to never have to go to any other number after this.

HANSEN: The reason you're going to IPv6, though, is because a lot of devices have come on the market that do things. I mean, I bet that nobody expected that a refrigerator would need some kind of computer interface. You say there's enough so there might not need to be an IVp7, but who knows what kind of devices are going to be developed in the near future?

Mr. CURRAN: Sure. The size of the address space, going forward, conceivably would allow us to enumerate - or individually count all the atoms and molecules we know in this particular planetary system. So while it is possible we could end up with more devices than that, it's probably not likely. We've truly outdone ourselves in terms of sizing to hope we only have to go through this transition once.

HANSEN: John Curran is president and CEO of ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers. He joined us from member station KPBS in San Diego. Thank you very much.

Mr. CURRAN: Thank you for having me.

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