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Europe's supply of IPv4 addresses could be exhausted this month

There will be more pressure on US companies that do business in Europe to add the capability of handling IPv6-based traffic to their websites

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The European Internet registry - RIPE NCC - is expected to exhaust its supply of IPv4 addresses as early as next week, putting more pressure on US-based multinational corporations to deploy the replacement technology known as IPv6

RIPE NCC has about 10 million IPv4 addresses to dole out in a business-as-usual fashion to European carriers, enterprises and other network operators to meet their three-month projections for subscriber growth. When these 10 million addresses are gone, RIPE NCC will go into strict conservation mode with its final block of 16 million IPv4 addresses, which is called a /8 in network engineering parlance. Once all of its IPv4 addresses are gone, RIPE NCC will give carriers only IPv6 addresses for their new subscribers.

Geoff Huston (pictured), a well-known Internet Protocol expert, is predicting that RIPE NCC will exhaust its supply of the 10 million IPv4 addresses on July 31. 

Huston, who serves as the Chief Scientist of the Asia Pacific Network Information Center (APNIC), has a track record of accurate predictions regarding IPv4 depletion. He successfully predicted the February 2011 depletion of the central pool of IPv4 addresses operated by IANA as well as Asia's depletion of IPv4 addresses in April 2011. 

Huston says RIPE NCC could run out of IPv4 addresses any time over the next six to eight weeks, but that his mathematical model based on four years of RIPE NCC's IPv4 address assignments points to 31 July.

"The long-term stats say that the end of July is the most likely date at the moment," Huston says. "The short-term stats indicate a date closer to the end of August or even as far out as September. But I have to stress that predicting the actions of a small pool of [network operators] is, statistically speaking, very challenging."

So far this year, RIPE NCC has allocated 27 million IPv4 addresses to carriers, who must demonstrate their needs for additional addresses in three-month increments. Huston expects the 10 largest European carriers to make additional address requests that will use up 3 million IPv4 addresses this month. He also expects smaller network operators to receive an additional 3 million IPv4 addresses over the same timeframe.

Huston says the uncertainty in his projections result from the unpredictable actions of the largest European carriers.

"Predicting the individual actions of 10 larger folk, or even 50 larger folk, is far harder,'' Huston explains. "They may take a break over August, or they may not. They may get spooked by the current address take-up projections and accelerate their final requests, or they may not. They may be in the middle of a business down cycle due to the prevailing adverse economic conditions in many of the European consumer markets. Or they might panic and rush the registry for the remaining address stocks. It's extremely hard to tell."

RIPE NCC confirms on its website that "in the coming months the RIPE NCC will reach the last /8 of IPv4 address space that it holds." A RIPE NCC spokesman did not reply to questions about a more precise IPv4 address depletion date. 

No matter the exact date, it's clear that Europe's supply of IPv4 addresses will be gone by the end of the summer. And that will put more pressure on US companies that do business in Europe to add the capability of handling IPv6-based traffic to their websites, email and other Internet services as more users get IPv6-enabled smartphones, tablets and other devices. 

"Since this will be the second of the three largest registries to run out of [IPv4] space, and the two together represent a significant fraction of the world population, it's certainly likely to represent a turning point in IPv4 preservation strategies and a clear indication that sustaining IPv4 is a doomed strategy going forward," says Owen DeLong, IPv6 evangelist with Hurricane Electric, a Californian ISP that boasts the Internet's most interconnected IPv6 backbone. 

DeLong says that IPv6 traffic is rising in Europe, where carriers such as France's Free ISP has been fully IPv6-enabled since 2007.

"We're definitely seeing an increase in IPv6 uptake lately" by US multinationals, DeLong says. "[It's] hard to say how much of it is from outreach efforts, IPv6 Launch Day on 6 June, increased awareness from content providers now being available on IPv6 or the RIPE NCC impending runout.'' 

Meanwhile, the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) is expected to run out of IPv4 address in February 2013. 
The original design of the Internet used addresses based on IPv4, which are 32 bits in size and number 4.3 billion in total. As the number of devices connected to the Internet began growing exponentially in the late 1990s, Internet engineers created a next-generation addressing scheme known as IPv6, which uses 128-bit addresses and has a virtually unlimited pool of address space. However, IPv6 is not backward compatible with IPv4, requiring network operators to run both protocols side-by-side for the foreseeable future.



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