Internet: superhighway becomes cul-de-sac

The internet's founder says the web has hit a dead-end - we're about to run out of IP addresses.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Vint Cerf, one of the men who invented the system, says that less than 14% of the IP addresses provided by the original internet structure remain. The ‘internet protocol version four' system, surely understood by some basement-dwelling characters somewhere, provided 4.2bn IP addresses, each of which is a series of 32 binary digits.

With the explosion of internet activity of late, where everything including the kitchen sink is wired up to the net, Cerf reckons the addresses will run out in 2010, and possibly even before. Hence he is warning business it needs to act now to switch to the next generation of internet addresses.

A new system, called IPv6, has been ready to fire for more than a decade, and certainly seems to pack a virtual real estate punch. Each address has 128 bits and so provides 340 trillion, trillion, trillion different addresses. To put that in context, that's even more IP addresses than Roman Abramovich has house addresses.

The two protocol systems will run in tandem. The problem is that if the IPv6 is not widely adopted, then those using it may find themselves unable to connect across the whole internet.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has urged governments to educate business, and encourage its adoption by specifying it in tenders for work.

This comes only a few days after Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the worldwide web and as such one of the other ‘fathers of the internet', 'revealed' something that the rest of us had known since day one: that not everything we read on the internet is as true as it might be. This is the equivalent of the Adam Smith, widely regarded as the father of modern economics, looking down from the clouds and announcing that the financial system is in a bit of a pickle. We had noticed. Still, like capitalism, the net looks ingrained enough to survive these little blips.

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