Huh. Interesting stuff. Don't really know what to think lolBy James Keller, The Canadian Press
VANCOUVER - There are billions of computers, phones and other gadgets connected to the Internet from all over the world, but soon there will be no room left for anyone new to join them.
Every piece of technology connected to the Net has an Internet Protocol or IP address — a unique string of numbers that identifies each device and directs information its way.
And the world is about to run out.
The current system for assigning IP addresses, known as IPv4, uses a format that allows for 4.3 billion different combinations. But there are so many already being used that experts predict they will all be gone by next year.
That means Internet service providers, websites and consumers will soon need to switch to an entirely new protocol, IPv6, which can accommodate 340 undecillion addresses — 340 followed by 36 zeros.
The switch will require some users to obtain software upgrades and new hardware, and could cause problems as ISPs, users and content providers make the change at different times.
Paul Anderson, who sits on the board of ARIN, the regional body that assigns IP addresses in North America, says when the current system was devised in the early 1980s, the engineers putting it together had no idea just how massive the Internet would become.
"That was back when it was mostly a research network, the Internet as we know it had never even been fathomed," says Anderson, who also runs the Toronto-based ISP egateNETWORKS.
"Second of all, it was never contemplated how many addresses an individual might need. Whereas a few years ago, you probably had a home computer and that was your IP address, now you've got a BlackBerry, an iPad and other devices at your home."
He adds the IPv6 protocol has actually been around for more than a decade, but there hasn't been a compelling reason for ISPs to make the switch until now.
For users already connected to the Internet, not much will change at the moment the last IP address is handed out, explains Anderson.
The real challenge will be when new users want to connect. And what that will mean, says Anderson, depends on who you're talking about.
Internet service providers will need to set up IPv6 networks to add new customers, and that needs to happen soon.
While Anderson says no major Internet provider currently offers IPv6 to their home customers, he predicts they are likely well on their way. Bell declined to discuss the company's IPv6 plans, and Shaw didn't return a call seeking comment.
Telus spokesman Shawn Hall wouldn't comment on specific preparations, but said in an email that Telus "is developing IPv6 services with both businesses and consumers in mind and will be ready for the eventual v6 adoption."
Some smaller ISPs, such as Anderson's, already offer IPv6 service.
Content providers will need to make sure their websites are ready for IPv6, because a computer on the new network can't see a website on the old network, and vice versa.
And for consumers, they will need to ensure their computers, routers and any other online device has the software required for IPv6. Some old hardware, such as routers, might need to be replaced if they can't be upgraded.
But Anderson stresses it will likely be a long, gradual process that shouldn't catch users suddenly off guard.
"It's not a light switch flick, it's a gradual transition," says Anderson.
"When we run out of addresses, the Internet is going to work the second before we allocate that last address and the second after. Where we are going to have a problem is growth."
Marc Blanchet, a member of IPv6 Canada, part of a North American task force promoting the new protocol, says ISPs are probably looking for ways to introduce the new system without disrupting users.
He says some providers, for example, might require their new users to use the IPv6 network, rather than asking all of their customers to switch right away, or offer their premium services on the new protocol as an incentive for users to take the necessary steps.
ISPs can also use technology to allow a person to connect to both networks at the same time, acting as a bridge if customers are on the IPv6 network before some of their favourite websites are, although that will only be a temporary solution.
"It all depends on the packaging that the services providers will handle as we go," says Blanchet, adding that it's difficult to predict just how smoothly the transition will go.
"That being said, the complete story, I can't tell you."