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The Crowded Internet

The European Commission says the Internet it will run out of available addresses by 2005.

The European Commission is pushing governments and private industry to accelerate support for Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6), a communications technology that has the potential to increase the number of available Internet addresses exponentially.

Unless action is taken, space on the current generation of the Internet (version 4) is projected to be exhausted by around 2005, Erkki Liikanen, European commissioner for enterprise and the information society, said in a statement.

In North America, there's little incentive for vendors to create software that supports IPv6, says Scott Bradner, senior technical consultant with Harvard University, because companies there aren't among the have-nots when it comes to IP addresses. Getting Microsoft, the dominant software maker, to build software that supports IPv6 is a prerequisite to adoption of the new protocol, Bradner says. Microsoft's Windows XP supports IPv6, and Microsoft plans to build IPv6 support into its Windows.Net Server later this year, a Microsoft spokeswoman says. When operating systems begin supporting version 6, users won't notice a visual difference, but telecom companies and IT departments will incur upgrading and training expenses to support both version 4 and version 6.

Telcos are in cost-cutting mode, TeleChoice analyst Charles Mather says. "Any extensive conversion of IP networks will be very costly in time and required equipment upgrades." The threat of exhausting IP addresses and overburdening Internet routers with huge routing tables is very real, Mather says. As new addresses are needed for cell phones and other Internet-enabled devices, Bradner adds, the world will quickly consume the 2 billion IP addresses available in version 4.

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