Concern over lack of IPv6 uptake as IP address D-Day looms

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Time is running out for the IPv6 address protocol to be finalised, with reports that the current IPv4 system could release its last remaining batch of new addresses as soon as September next year.

According to the latest estimates, there are only around 300 million IPv4 addresses still available, and they're being used up faster than ever thanks to the explosion of web-enabled mobile devices such as smartphones. At current rates, claims a report by the BBC, the last batch of addresses will have to be released by 9 September, 2011.

The system of assigning a unique IP address to any device accessing the internet is what guarantees that data always reaches the right person or device. Version four of the protocol has been in place since the early 1980s, with the 32-bit naming convention allowing for around four billion possible address combinations.

The IP address space is controlled by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which releases new addresses in batches as they become necessary this month alone it has released two large chunks of new addresses.

Knowing that the IPv4 system would eventually run out of space, the 128-bit IPv6 standard has been in development for some time, offering IP address combinations numbering in the trillions.

But with the last batch of IPv4 addresses now likely to be released within 18 months, and space predicted to run out altogether by April 2012, there is increasing concern at just how few businesses and ISPs have switched to IPv6, despite all the warning signs.

Just six per cent of the networks that form the internet use IPv6, and just one per cent of the top million websites. And according to Trefor Davies, chief technology officer at business ISP Timico, the result was invariably delays caused by ISPs needing to translate addresses from one format to the other.

"It adds quite a lot of latency onto people accessing your network because it has to go through network address translation," Davies told the BBC, adding that these delays would soon start affecting general web browsing if IPv6 uptake didn't increase.

Davies also suggested that as the current pool of addresses dwindles, the IANA has been forced to start "rationing", with ISPs now having to demonstrate an urgent need for new addresses for any to be released.

"You cannot just ask for more IP addresses," he said. "You have to prove you need them. The registries will not let you have more until your reserves reach a certain threshold."