In the same way your phone is linked with a single number, your computer is assigned a exclusive Internet Protocol (IP) address when you connect to the Internet. The current protocol, IPv4, allows for about 4 billion unique addresses—and that number is about to run out.
This morning the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced (PDF) that it has spread the last batch of its remaining IPv4 addresses to the world’s five Regional Internet Registries, the organizations that manage IP addresses in dissimilar regions. These Registries will begin conveying the final IPv4 addresses within their regions until they run out completely, which could come as soon as early 2012.
As the last blocks of IPv4 addresses are assigned, acceptance of a new protocol—IPv6—is essential to the sustained growth of the open Internet. IPv6 will expand Internet address space to 128 bits, making room for approximately 340 trillion trillion trillion addresses (enough to preceding us for the foreseeable future).
Google, along with others, has been functioning for years to implement the larger IPv6 format. We’re also participating in the intended World IPv6 Day, scheduled for June 8, 2011. On this day, all of the participating organizations will allow access to as many services as possible via IPv6.
Today’s ICANN statement marks a major milestone in the history of the Internet. IPv6, the next chapter, is at the present under way.