The global explosion of technology as the new medium for business could grind to a halt within 18 to 30 months as Internet addresses dry up.
Australia's telecommunications experts say the rapid exhaustion of available IP addresses is comparable to the global food and petrol shortage, but has largely slipped beneath the radar of those outside the coal face of IT.
Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC) chief scientist Geoff Huston said the organisation will run out of IP addresses to hand out to businesses and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) unless the current Internet layer protocol, Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4), is upgraded.
“We have about one and half to two and a half years to change to IPv6 before supply vapourises,” Huston said. “Nothing has seriously been done about it. There isn't an economic reason for business to invest in [IPv6] because everything is working at the moment.
“My personal view is that we are going to see very lucrative markets for Ipv4 addresses. The world is addicted to it and business will pay almost any price [to get addresses].”
He said the problem is exacerbated by soaring Asia Pacific economies such as China and India which are soaking up addresses faster than developed nations.
Pundits have been screaming from the rooftops about the imminent exhaustion of IPv4 for years; exactly 10 years to the day, according to Huston.
But experts say the attention that the IPv6 cause has previously achieved has been sensationalised by claims that the IPv4 exhaustion will destroy the Internet.
Instead, Huston said, businesses will simply find they cannot get extra addresses. ISPs will be unable to take on new subscribers, businesses will be unable start up Web sites, but the Internet will function as normal.
“It's like running out of phone numbers; the phone book will still be used because everyone with a number will still be active,” Huston said.
Vocus Communications managing director James Spenceley said the exhaustion may happen earlier than expected as businesses rush to grab the remaining addresses.
“I think we're all screwed. There is some really critical resources that will run out in less than two years that we need for each user to have a decent Internet experience,” Spenceley said.
“Many time estimates don't account for the land-grab that's going to occur when users realise address space is running out.”
Experts say conversion to IPv6 has stalled because there is little economic incentive for hardware vendors and ISPs to do so, despite the fact the upgrade itself is relatively easy and inexpensive for ISPs. “Users are simply happy with their services,” Spenceley says. “They don't see a problem with their Internet access so why would they pay more for [IPv6] which will essentially deliver the same service?”