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AV and IT – the impending IPcalypse

If we humans can’t agree on climate change what hope is there that we can address the IP address shortage that wipe out any IP service we may sell, asks Bob Snyder

According to Rod Beckstrom, president of ICANN (the official Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the internet that now serves as a base for many of the new digital AV services will run out of internet addresses in about one year’s time.

Vinton Cerf, internet pioneer and now Google’s chief internet evangelist, recorded a video to urge all industries to address this. Even Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the internet, publicly expressed concern.

The insanity that the internet would simply run out of room is finally coming true. It’s not only computers that are consuming IP addresses: it’s all those smartphones, iPads, mobile devices, digital signage, and now even home TVs that require internet access.

To that explosion of connected devices, add the emerging Internet of Things. Thanks largely to sensor data, smart grids, and RFIDs, almost any Thing worth tracking will have its own IP address in the future. If you think this is far-fetched, consider companies such as Gillette, which is running trials with RFIDs embedded in its packages of razor blades, tracking products from factory to warehouse to customer.

Beyond corporate customers, AV’s main customers (hotels, schools, transport, and the building industry) are expected to be leading the adoption of internet-swallowing RFIDs. And all of this internet-sucking development is way beyond the infrastructure’s ability to deliver.

A slow death

Internet Protocol version 4, the first version of IP to be widely deployed, sits at the core of standards-based internet working methods, but IPv4 only uses 32-bit addresses – limiting us to 4,294,967,296 possible unique addresses.

When the internet began, IPv4’s possible 4.3 billion addresses looked overwhelmingly sufficient. Yet,by this January ICANN warned that we had only 10% left. At mid-year we had only 6% of available IPv4 addresses remaining. At this rate of uptake, we will exhaust all addresses by Q2 next year.

Finding and registering a new IP address then will be like finding a house in a coveted Amsterdam street: it will involve a waiting list of indeterminate duration.

Internet addresses in the IPv4 world were formed in a quartet of numbers, such as This number –not to be confused with a URL, such as – ensures you reach your intended destination. URLs appear to do the same thing, but in IP transit, a single URL can be tied to multiple IP addresses or vice versa.

The version designed to succeed IPv4 will use a 128-bit address, (each one broken into hexadecimal groups). If there are 6.8 billion of us on this planet in 2010, IPv6 gives each of us the same number of IP addresses per person as the number of atoms in a metric ton of carbon. OK, that number just means don’t even bother to count: a huge difference.

(If you need to be precise, there can be around 340 x 1036 possible addresses, otherwise known as 340
undecillion. Yep, that’s billions of addresses for each living person.)

The problem is that IPv6 is already 10 years old and penetration is still less than 1% of internet-enabled hosts in any country.

Remember when in 2000 many computers supposedly would be rendered obsolete because of a short-sighted programming decision. The IT industry, badly burned (but greatly enriched) by the Y2K fiasco, is now reticent to shout ‘fire’.

When the insufficiency of IPv4 was first revealed, the industry – instead of addressing the problem headon – created network address translation (NAT) and deployed it as an effort to alleviate IPv4 address exhaustion. Those benefits are exhausted now but it left the industry feeling smug about its ability to invent MacGyver-like run-arounds.
Just as with climate change, many people resist the internet-will-run-dry concept as a money-grabber, or a scientific boondoggle, or as an underestimation of the resilience of human ingenuity MacGyver fans).

Hitting the wall

What will happen when we run out of addresses? Chances are nothing will happen until companies and consumers feel threatened. Unlike climate change, the damage will not be irreversible. It will just stop internet growth, as if a sprinter had run full speed into a brick wall. All stops until the wall comes down.

And that will interfere with your digital AV business. When you need to create an IP address for that digital signage player in the shopping mall… internet access for remote monitoring and diagnostic for that corporate projector… the interactive whiteboard in the classroom… that security camera for the car dealership, and so on…

In 2011, you might have to look to a grey market to get an internet address for a product or project, and bid against other interested parties. Some equipment may become obsolete or non-functioning if it lacks the ability to handle IPv6. Fortunately most of the operating systems have been prepared for some time.

Avoiding the IPcalypse

It all starts by raising awareness in both your customer and supplier base. Like climate change, we are all in this together. Someone else’s problem soon becomes your own.

Then, you want to be sure that the IPv6 is actually enabled in any networking connection. (See screen shot as an example.) Believe it or not, many IT networkers have been recommending wireless situations to keep IPv6 disabled to improve IPv4 reception. This may have been an advantage last year but next year it could create service calls. Finally, you can scrutinise your infrastructure suppliers for IPv6 compliance. Those internet service providers that you and your clients regularly work with need to adopt and enable IPv6. Many ISPs, including telcos, have been slow to adopt as there are costs involved on their side. But if you have a choice between ISPs later this year, you may want to review their IPv6 progress.

There are other benefits to adopting IPv6. This new plan includes a level of security built into the protocol. It carries capabilities to verify addresses and known identities, establishing trust between routers. This makes it harder for hackers to perform “address spoof” attacks.

Routers and firewalls within IPv6 will provide greater protection against anonymous attacks. Beyond this extra security (which is good for AV, too), IPv6 favours our AV-rich media (and critical applications) performance on the network, allowing faster transactions over virtual private networks (VPNs).

VoIP communications are boosted with IPv6 as it improves quality of service to allow certain networks to take priority during heavy network use.

The move to IPv6 may be slow and ongoing, but with increased internet growth we will adopt it – either with foresight or in hindsight. It’s up to all of us.

Previous article in this series: Dealing with IT invaders