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Internet protocol (IP) numbers


11 Jan 2017

The US Department of Transportation announced the creation of an advisory committee focused on automation. The committee will work on ‘some of the most pressing and relevant matters facing transportation today, including the development and deployment of automated vehicles’, with a view to determining the needs of the Department as it continues with its relevant research, policy, and regulations in the area. Members of the committee include representatives of companies such as Amazon, Apple, and Uber, as well as academics from universities such as Stanford, Duke, and Berkeley.

14 Dec 2016

Europol and RIPE Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC) - the Regional Internet Registry responsible for the allocation of Internet protocol (IP) addresses in Europe, Middle East, and parts of Central Asia - have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) aimed at fostering bilateral cooperation in tackling cybercrime and Internet security. While RIPE NCC has worked with Europol over the past several years (through, for example, offering training on issues such as searching for information in the RIPE database), this MoE is the first agreement that the entity has reached with a law enforcement agency.

14 Nov 2016

Results of a survey conducted by Consulintel over the past year sheds light into how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) deploy IPv6. At a general level, the survey shows that certain countries in each region have a bigger IPv6 deployment: the USA in the ARIN region, Belgium in the RIPE NCC region, Brazil in LACNIC, and Japan in the APNIC region, while there seems to be almost no IPv6 deployment in AFRINIC. 31% of responding ISPs indicated that they already provide IPv6 as a commercial service, while 17% indicated that the service is still in trial stages. Regarding the technologies used for deploying IPv6, the survey shows that recent technologies such as FTTH (35%), xDSL (22%) and Cable/DOCSIS (20%) were among the most popular across the different regions.


Internet Protocol numbers (IP numbers) are unique numeric addresses that all devices connected to the Internet must have. Two devices connected to the Internet cannot have the same IP number. This makes IP numbers a potentially scarce resource.

The system for the distribution of IP numbers is hierarchically organised. At the top is IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority – whose functions are currently carried through the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – ICANN), which distributes blocks of IP numbers to the five regional Internet registries (RIRs): AFRINIC, for Africa; APNIC, for Asia-Pacific; ARIN, for North America; LACNIC, for Latin America and the Caribbean; and RIPE NCC, for Europe, Middle East and parts of Central Asia. The five RIRs coordinate their activities within the Number Resource Organization (NRO), which, among others, contributes to the development of global IP number policies (especially within the ICANN, where it acts as the Address Supporting Organization (ASO), tasked with reviewing and developing recommendations on IP address policy, and advising the ICANN Board in this regard).

RIRs distribute IP numbers to the local Internet registries (LIRs) and national Internet registries (RIRs), which in turn distribute IP numbers to smaller ISPs, companies, and individuals further down the ladder.

IP numbers & the transition to IPv6

The pool of IP numbers under IPv4, which was introduced in 1983, contains some four billion numbers, which were initially thought to be sufficient to satisfy the demand for addresses. However, in February 2011, IANA announced that it no longer had blocks of IPv4 available for allocation to RIRs. In September 2015, ARIN, announced the depletion of its own pool of IPv4 addresses.

The depletion of IPv4 numbers has been accelerated, in recent years, through the introduction Internet-enabled devices (such as mobile phones, personal organisers, game consoles, and home appliances) and the rise of worldwide Internet connectivity. The developments in the area of the Internet of Things (IoT) also led to an increase in the demand for IP addresses. The concern that IP numbers might run out and eventually inhibit the further development of the Internet has led the technical community to take three major actions:

  • Rationalise the use of the existing pool of IP numbers through the introduction of Network Address Translation (NAT).
  • Address the wasteful address allocation algorithms used by the RIRs by introducing Classless Inter-Domain Routing (CIDR).
  • Introduce a new version of the TCP/IP protocol – IPv6 – which provides a much bigger pool of IP numbers (over 340,000,000,000,000,000,000).

The response of the Internet technical community to the problem of a potential shortage of IP numbers is an example of prompt and proactive management. While both NAT and CIDR provided a quick fix for the problem, a proper long-term solution is the transition to IPv6. Although IPv6 was introduced back in 1996, its deployment has been very slow, due to lack of awareness about the need for transition, as well as limited funds for investment in new equipment in developing countries.

One of the main challenges facing the deployment of IPv6 is the lack of backward compatibility between IPv6 and IPv4. Networks using IPv6 cannot communicate directly to those, still dominant today, using IPv4. Since it is very likely that networks using IPv4 and IPv6 will coexist during the forthcoming period, it is important to ensure that new – IPv6-based – networks do not remain islands. A technical solution will involve special tunnelling between the two types of networks, which will cause more complex routing on the Internet and a few other collateral problems.

Given the complexity of the transition to IPv6, developing countries may benefit from the delayed start and the possibility of introducing IPv6-based networks from the beginning. In this process, developing countries will need technical assistance.

Apart from the problem of transition, the policy framework for IPv6 distribution will require a proper distribution of IP numbers, demanding the introduction of open and competitive mechanisms to address the needs of end-users in the most optimal way. Even with the introduction of IPv6, an ‘artificial’ scarcity of IP numbers could still arise, if those responsible for allocating them at local level, such as ISPs, choose to abuse their power and link such allocation to, for example, the purchase of other services, thus affecting the availability and price of IP numbers.

The ongoing transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is a process that requires attention and involvement from a wide range of stakeholders. Technical organisations such as IANA, the RIRs, and the IETF need to ensure an efficient and effective administration of IPv6 resources, and to develop the necessary standards and specifications for the use of IPv6. ISPs have to both implement techniques that ensure communication between IPv4 and IPv6, and introduce IPv6 in their networks and services. Producers of equipments (operating systems, network equipment, etc) and applications (business software, smart cards, etc) need to ensure that their products and applications are compatible with IPv6. And providers of information society services have to implement IPv6 within their servers.

Experts have warned that a slow transition to IPv6 risks leading to the so-called ‘technical fragmentation’ of the Internet, where two parallel internets, one IPV4 enabled, and the other one IPv6 enabled, will not be able to interact with one another. This was underlined, for example, in a report published in early 2016 by the World Economic Forum (‘Internet Fragmentation: an overview’), according to which only about 4% of the Internet is currently servicing IPv6 usage.                   

Changes in TCP/IP and cybersecurity

Security was not a major issue for the original developers of the Internet, as, at that time, the Internet consisted of a closed network of research institutions. With the expansion of the Internet to two billion users worldwide and its growing importance as a commercial tool, the question of security is high up on the list of Internet governance issues.

Because the Internet architecture was not designed with security in mind, incorporating intrinsic security will require substantial changes to the very basis of the Internet, the TCP/IP. The new IPv6 protocol provides some security improvements, but still falls short of a comprehensive solution. Such protection would require considerable modifications to TCP/IP. Efforts to create formal standards bring private technical decisions made by system builders into the public realm; in this way, standards battles can bring to light unspoken assumptions and conflicts of interest. The very passion with which stakeholders contest standards decisions should alert us to the deeper meaning beneath the nuts and bolts.

Changes in TCP/IP and the problem of limited bandwidth

To facilitate the delivery of multimedia content (e.g. Internet telephony, or video on demand), it is necessary to provide a quality of service (QoS) capable of guaranteeing a minimum level of performance. QoS is particularly important in delay-sensitive applications, such as live event broadcasting, and is often difficult to achieve due to bandwidth constraints. The introduction of QoS may require changes in the IP, including a potential challenge for the principle of network neutrality.

Given the continuous evolution of network technologies, and the challenges underlined above, organisations in the technical community have started looking into the possibility of developing a next generation of Internet protocols, that would be better suited to the realities of the evolving technical landscape. As an example, in early 2016, the European Telecommunications Standard Institute established a working group tasked with ‘identifying the requirements for next generation protocols and network architectures’; the group is expected to analyse issues such as: addressing, security and authentication, requirements from the Internet of Things, requirements from video and content distribution, and requirements from e-commerce.



Resolutions & Declarations

ITU Resolution 101: Internet Protocol-based networks (2014)
ITU Resolution 102: ITU’s role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses (2014)
ITU Resolution 180: Facilitating the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 (2014)


Request for Comments (RFC) dealing with Internet Protocol Numbers (2015)

Other Instruments



IPv6 Transition Mechanisms (2015)


Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)


Internet Fragmentation: An Overview (2016)
Economic Factors in the Allocation of IP Addresses (2009)


One Internet (2016)
State of the Internet: Q4 2015 Report (2016)
State of the IPV4 Market Report (2015) (2016)
Best Practice Forum on Creating an Enabling Environment for IPv6 Adoption (2015)

Other resources

RIR Comparative Policy Overview (2016)
Regional Internet Registry Comparative Policy Overview (2016)
Proposal to Transition the Stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to the Global Multistakeholder Community (2016)
Introduction to IPv6 Online Tutorial (2016)
CCWG-Accountability Supplemental Final Proposal on Work Stream 1 Recommendations (ICANN Accountability proposal) (2016)
Beginner’s Guide to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (2011)
RIPE NCC Internet Number Resources Statistics
LACNIC Internet Number Resources Statistics
Google IPv6 Adoption Statistics
ARIN Internet Number Resources Statistics
AFRINIC Internet Number Resources Statistics


In relation to the deployment of IPv6, further discussions on the persistent problem of the depletion of IPv4 numbers took place during

In relation to the deployment of IPv6, further discussions on the persistent problem of the depletion of IPv4 numbers took place during the Best Practices Forum (BPF) on Creating an Enabling Environment for IPv6 Adoption. Although the pool of IPv4 is running out at an alarming rate, the panel agreed that the deployment of IPv6 is happening, albeit at its own pace. It was predicted that next year’s BPF will most likely focus on the economic aspects of IPv6 deployment.


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