Everybody Panic! IP Addresses Will Run Out This Year

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Within a year, IP (internet protocol) addresses are expected to run out. Each IP address is like a unique phone number assigned to whatever device you’re using to connect to the internet. Without a valid IP address you won’t be able to connect to the outside world, so they’re important. But now that our computers, mobile devices, cars and even our refrigerators  have Web access, we’re running out of sequences to pass around.

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The current IPv4 system only allows for some four billion IP addresses, a number that seemed cushy some 30 years ago. Now, The Sydney Morning Herald reports we have some 340 days before our address allotment dries up. (There’s even a semi-official counter online to mark the IP depletion.) Think Y2K, but with fewer canned goods.

Naturally, the IP system is due for an upgrade, which it will get. By increasing the bits used in each address, protocol version IPv6 will provide us with trillions of possible addresses, eliminating the issue. But, according the Herald, the cost of making the switch is exorbitant, which means an upgrade will be met with resistance. If companies still using older technology refuse to take care of the necessary software or hardware upgrades, we could see IP addresses for sale next to kidneys on the black market. More and more users may also be forced to share addresses. That’s a practice commonly used today in order to dynamically redistribute IPv4 addresses as needed (you don’t use your IP address when you’re not connected, so it may be given to someone else when they need to connect) but if we continue to run short of static addresses as more and more devices and connections spring up, it could cause a crack in IP-dependent Web apps like Gmail, Google Maps or iTunes. (Zoinks!)

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But before you restock the bomb shelter, consider this doomsday scenario is only one possible outcome of the IP address issue. Concerns over IPv4 have been addressed since the late 90s, and IPv6 is already being integrated in both Windows and Mac operating systems. Even new smartphones like the iPhone support the new protocol. In all likelihood, only companies running older systems will feel the sting of the IPv4 depletion. Most likely, the average Internet user wouldn’t even notice a switch (unless you’re still tinkering around on some 1980′s Commodore).

So what’s with all the doom and loom, dear Internet? Is it possible that if we do nothing we could feel some sort of an IP glitch? Yes. However, according to Hollywood, the world’s at an end come 2012 anyway. (Especially, if we have to rely on John Cusack to save us.)

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Large corporations, take note: You better not muck this up. As for regular consumers: Don’t ever buy into a disaster that couldn’t inspire a suitable Keanu Reeves movie.