There’s been a lot of talk this week about the fact that the last wholesale IP addresses using the current addressing scheme have been given out, which means that at some point in the future ISPs will have to start allocating addresses in a new format called IPv6. The old and the new IP address formats are not compatible with each other, but this does not put your website under threat. Here is why.
What is an IP address?
IP stands for “Internet Protocol”, and an IP address is like your computer or web server’s telephone number on the Internet. When the current IP address format was set up, the designers of the scheme never envisaged the mass number of users that exist today, with applications like Facebook bringing more and more people online. IP addresses are allocated to countries and subsequently to ISPs by the authorities that oversee Internet standards. When someone connects to their ISP via their computer, they are typically allocated an IP number that is later re-used when that person disconnects their computer from the Internet (e.g. when it is turned off).
One of the issues for IP addresses is that businesses use fixed IP numbers for their domain names and company connections, so that their computers are always allocated the same number. This helps other computers on the Internet find their websites and use a number of IP-address specific services used by businesses. As a result of such reservations, the maximum number of IP addresses available worldwide has effectively run out. The last wholesale IP range has now been allocated, meaning every possible usable range
of IP addresses is now allocated to someone, somewhere.
If the Internet has run out of IP addresses, how will anyone find my website?
The good news is that although all IP addresses in the current range are allocated, there is a new format of addresses available called IPv6 that offers many more possibilities. Most ISPs in Australia are now at various stages of testing this, although progress is slower than one would expect for something so important. Both ISP and home Computers and Networking equipment need to be upgraded in order to support the new format, and it’s not compatible with the current scheme. This means it’s not a simple matter of ISPs just upgrading their current equipment to support it.
ISPs have enough unallocated addresses in the current format to last at least another 6-12 months or more without any changes at all, so both ISPs and hosting providers face no real immediate threat to customers using the Internet or finding websites. What’s more is that even when the new IPv6 format is available mainstream in Australia ISPs will continue to provide support for the current IP address range for a very long time, and as businesses move their “reserved” website or corporate IP addresses from the current IPv4 scheme to the newer IPv6 one, then the freed-up addresses are likely to be recycled.
No need to panic: there’s plenty of time left yet before IPv6 is mainstream in Australia
It’s a bit like digital TV: it’s been coming for a long time, but the old format TV still hasn’t been turned off.
It could therefore be many years before end users are forced to change their equipment or that hosting providers start allocating websites with IPv6 addresses. Australian ISPs should be ashamed that they are moving so slowly, but it’s not bad news for you, the end user. Your business website and new business web hosting space is still safe.