The plethora of mobile devices and an increase in Internet services to the home have led to a shortage of Internet addresses, which could run out by the end of 2011.
The governing architecture for the Internet, known as IPv4, or Internet Protocol version 4, is a unique identifier required for all devices. But there is only space for 4.3 billion such IP addresses, a telecommunications official said during a meeting Tuesday. A recent surge in tablet and smartphone launches is depleting the supply of available addresses. The U.S. owns more than 90 percent of public IP addresses globally. About 94.5 percent of the available IP addresses for IPv4 have already been used, and by next summer, the remaining 5.5 percent are expected to be distributed among the Regional Internet Registries, Reuters reported.
"We now face an exhaustion of IPv4 addresses," Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said in the meeting, Reuters reported.
The advent of IP-based technologies such as LTE and WiMax has also been a factor in the depletion of IPv4, along with M2M devices and smart technologies used in the home like components in refrigerators, and dishwashers and in vehicles.
"Fortunately, IPv6 will support 340 trillion, trillion, trillion addresses," Strickling said, and appealed to businesses to widely roll out and integrate IPv6, Reuters reported.
The reason is that IPv6 is a much longer address, but it makes up a lot more possible numbers, said Todd Day, industry analyst, Mobile & Wireless Communications, Frost & Sullivan. "It's similar to a phone number with many digits, so it's like having a longer phone number."
Switching to IPv6 could be costly for businesses and the technology might not integrate well with what they are currently using. "Ultimately you have equipment that has to be replaced in order to support IPv6, you have software changes and upgrades in other pieces of equipment and testing and actual implementation costs," Day said.
ISPs, large enterprises and carriers typically have had all of their application servers in place for years now to support services on IPv4 technologies. Even though many application servers in the past couple of years started supporting both protocols, companies will still need to replace certain devices equipment in order to implement IPv6, Day said.
In spite of the challenges, the new protocol has its advantages, he said. "There are definitely a lot of benefits to IPv6,'' Day said. "In the bigger picture it allows for more security, video and voice streaming and better quality of service."