Businesses alone are not doing enough to avert an impending shortage of Internet Protocol addresses, and governments must work with them to secure the future of the Internet economy, according to a report published Thursday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The number of IP addresses, needed for Web sites, servers and PCs to communicate with one another over the Internet, is limited, and almost 85 percent of addresses are now in use. At the current rate of growth, the pool of available addresses will be exhausted by 2011.
Fortunately, a solution to this problem has already been developed: a new version of the Internet Protocol, IPv6, which provides a far greater number of addresses.
Adopting IPv6 means making extensive changes to networking hardware and software. While it's possible for IPv4, the current version, and IPv6 to coexist, and even for one to be carried over, or tunneled through, the other, the address shortage will still have a negative effect on the economy unless IPv6 is adopted all across the Internet, warned the OECD, an economic think tank sometimes described as a club for rich nations.
Internet service providers and businesses with large private networks are not doing enough to prepare for the introduction of IPv6. They should view the move as a commercial and social opportunity, not a financial burden, according to the OECD report.
Customer demand for IPv6 is still low, leading Internet businesses to delay action. The OECD wants governments to use their own buying power to stimulate the market for IPv6 equipment, software and services, and to fund IPv6 research and development.
One sign that demand for IPv6 is growing -- and also a good way to test if your own Internet connection is ready for IPv6 -- is Google's introduction of direct access to its search engine for IPv6 users, which the company announced on its official blog on Tuesday. The address ipv6.google.com will only work if you have an IPv6 connection, according to Google.
The U.S. government has set a deadline of next month for all government agencies to make their network infrastructure IPv6 compatible, while South Korea has set a goal of converting its infrastructure by 2010. China, too, is developing IPv6 infrastructure, and plans to use the Olympic Games in Beijing showcase intelligent transport and security systems running on IPv6.
The number of potential IPv6 addresses is so large -- enough that millions of devices per square meter of the earth's surface could each have their own address -- that a Japanese telecommunications operator is using IPv6 to network seismic sensors and traffic lights, allowing it to bring traffic to a safe halt in an earthquake, according to the OECD. Such an extravagant use of IP addresses -- the network requires millions of them -- would not otherwise be possible given the shortage of IPv4 addresses, the OECD noted.