Internet address shortage

A decade ago when telecoms were expanding, cities around the world were faced with shortages of phone numbers. New access codes were introduced and extra digits added to meet expanding demand.
Now the Internet faces a similar challenge as addresses start to run out. In fact, nearly 85% of all available Internet addresses were already in use by May 2008, and experts believe that, if current trends continue, addresses will run out by 2011. This could mean that new Internet users or mobile devices will simply not be able to access the Internet.Unlike adding telephone digits, the answer to the Internet problem is to open up a whole new Internet protocol, rather like adding a new turbo highway next to (and finally replacing) the information super highway. Today, most web addresses use Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4). This system is as old as the Internet, and is showing its age. The OECD says that it is high time to move to a new version, IPv6. Not only would IPv6 provide an unlimited number of addresses, but it would help drive the rollout of broadband, Internet-connected mobile phones and sensor networks, better routing and other new services.To make IPv6 happen, governments and businesses must work together harder to encourage moves to the new Internet protocol and secure the future of the Internet economy, the OECD says.IPv4 will be supported alongside IPv6 for some time, but the move must be prepared. Service providers have been reluctant to invest because customer demand for IPv6 is low. They have to be persuaded that the move is a commercial and social investment opportunity, rather than a financial burden. Governments could take a lead by stimulating demand for IPv6 through their own procurement policies and public-private partnerships in research and development.Some countries have already started to deploy IPv6 networks. Korea has committed to converting Internet equipment in public institutions to IPv6 by 2010 and to installing IPv6 equipment in every newly-built communications network. The Japanese telecommunications firm NTT, for example, uses IPv6 to connect thousands of earthquake sensors via a computer system that sends automatic alerts to television programmes and turns traffic lights red. This type of application requires millions of addresses so would not work on IPv4.The US government has set June 2008 as the deadline by which the Internet network of every government agency must be compatible with IPv6. The European Commission is also funding research projects and looking at ways to speed up deployment. The Chinese government has begun rolling out an IPv6 network, called China Next Generation Internet, and will use the 2008 Olympics in Beijing to test mobile devices and intelligent transport and security systems running on IPv6.For more on IPv6 at the OECD, see www.oecd.org/sti/ict and listen to the podcast. The Internet is also rich in websites explaining the details of IPv6.Also, contact Karine.Perset@oecd.org, of the OECD’s Information and Communications Policy division.©OECD Observer No 268 June 2008


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