It’s finally happened. The North American organization responsible for handing out new IP addresses says its banks have run dry.
That’s right: ARIN, the American Registry for Internet Numbers, has had to turn down a request for the unique numbers that we assign to each and every smartphone, tablet and PC so they can talk to the Internet. For the first time, ARIN didn’t have enough IP addresses left in its stock to satisfy an entire order — and now, it’s activated the end-times protocol that will see the few remaining addresses out into the night.
IP addresses are crucial to the operation of the Internet. They’re the numbers behind URLs like “google.com” or “facebook.com.” They identify every device that connects to the Web, from servers to connected cars. The original designers of the Internet thought they’d only need around 4 billion unique combinations, derived from the series of dots and digits that make up IP addresses everywhere.
How wrong they were.
By 2020, humanity will be living alongside 25 billion Internet-connected devices, according to Gartner researchers. The rising global demand for Web-enabled devices is far outstripping the original system’s ability to keep up. Left, uh, unaddressed, this problem would have put a stranglehold on the Web, keeping it from growing. It would’ve kept you from using new devices like smartwatches or smart refrigerators. Entirely new technologies we haven’t dreamt of might never have emerged. We’d have been stuck with the Internet that we now have, forever.
If you haven’t already guessed, we have a backup system in place so that Xboxes and Playstations of the future can continue to get online. Internet engineers have actually been anticipating this day for decades. To understand how they’ve solved it, let’s let one of the original designers of the Internet explain: