The last internet addresses available under the protocol that has governed the net since its beginnings have been handed out, giving website owners just a few months to make sure that consumers with next-generation devices will be able to reach them.
The remaining millions of numeric addresses, out of an original 4bn, were formally handed over on Thursday to five regional authorities that expect to assign them in the next three to six months.
After that, any new websites or devices that have built-in addresses, including smartphones, will be given addresses in a format that does not automatically connect with those from the old system.
The new pool of numeric address – the real destination behind a user-friendly address such as www.example.com – are a billion times larger than the IPv4 pool.
Without adjustments, devices with the new locations – known as IPv6 for internet protocol version six – will fail to reach older websites that are based on IPv4, and new websites based on IPv6 will be unreachable by people relying on IPv4-only devices.
“We need to speed the global adoption of the next-generation protocol”, said Rod Beckstrom, chief executive at the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers, announcing the formal depletion.
Many of the world’s most popular websites, such as Google and Facebook, have already made their pages accessible from either type of device.
Internet service providers, who will bear most of the burden from the change, likewise have purchased equipment that translates from one protocol to the other to take care of their customers’ websites.
In the same vein, many computers and mobile phones sold in the past few years have capability for both protocols installed.
But adoption of the new technology has been slower than many internet advisory groups would have liked because businesses felt no urgency while IPv4 addresses remained.
Not until a few months down the road will the first problems appear, when some people on IPv6-only devices might find they are unable to reach some smaller websites.
As that population grows, lagging website owners will have to modernise to be accessible to all.
Because big equipment vendors and service providers have been preparing by building in the new configurations, website owners should not have to spend vast sums for new gear.
Instead, IPv6-ready services should be part of routine upgrades. “We are talking about billions of dollars here globally, not trillions”, Mr Beckstrom said.
But experts said that there would be security and performance issues that would persist for years.
The translation of one format to another by middleman service providers, such as internet service providers, would mean that financial institutions lack a direct view into the end user’s machine, complicating efforts to authenticate users’ identities.
“A lot of the internet service providers have already been doing this, almost all of them. The translation capabilities are all there”, said Cisco Systems senior vice-president Ben Fathi.
“But as we get more v6 devices, there are going to be fidelity, security and audit capabilities in allowing the ISPs to do the translation”.
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