IPv4 in 2015: Black markets, regulated transfers or totally redundant?

The unallocated pool of IPv4 Internet addresses is predicted to run out before the industry has properly deployed IPv6, the technology designed to replace it. What could happen next?

This was the question put to a panel of Internet industry experts who played out a disturbing scenario in a 'Hypothetical' staged at APNIC 26 in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The Hypothetical featured a panel of business leaders, academics, researchers and government representatives who acted out fictional roles for imaginary organizations and countries set sometime in the not-too-distant future.

The Hypothetical was moderated by Jonny Martin, a leading Internet industry figure currently based in New Zealand. Martin took panellists on a journey through possible events and dilemmas that may occur before and after the remaining IPv4 address pool is exhausted.

APNIC 26 is being staged from 25 to 29 August, 2008 at the Christchurch Convention Centre, Christchurch, New Zealand. Held every six months, the meeting is a key event in the Internet addressing policy development agenda for the Asia Pacific region.

Taking perspectives that bear some resemblance to their real life responsibilities, the six panellists first spoke about how their fictional organizations were reacting to the depletion of available IPv4 resources.

As the story progressed, however, the scenario became more alarming as Martin frenetically painted a picture of the potential future caused by the industry's slow deployment of IPv6 and accelerated use of IPv4. In the hypothetical, industry estimates that the remaining pool of unallocated IPv4 address space would last until late 2011, proved to be wrong as network operators began to 'stock pile' address space in an effort to insure their future growth.

The Hypothetical explored possible reactions to such a scenario, which included the black market trading of IP addresses, changes to IP address allocation policies, and potential technology solutions to the shortage.

Panellists were faced with possible scenarios such as how the industry would deal with the unlicensed use of address space, the shortage of IPv6 skills and training, and the possibility that larger countries could be asked to return IPv4 address space for redistribution to fast-growing developing countries which would be hardest hit by the imagined circumstances.

The Hypothetical also explored how a legitimate IPv4 address trading scheme could provide an environment where network operators could legitimately buy and sell surplus address space.

"While exercises such as this Hypothetical may seem frivolous at first, the worst case scenario outlined today is not beyond the realms of possibility. The danger we face is that as IPv4 address space becomes increasingly scarce there are fears that strong demand for it could lead to a black market in IPv4 addresses," said Martin.

"The foundation of the Internet addressing policy to date has been one of open access based on need rather than ability to pay. Even in a legitimatized address trading environment, an open market could lead to a situation where the cost to obtain Internet address space could become prohibitive for developing economies," he said.

"The value of the Hypothetical was that it gave us the opportunity to move 'out-of-the-box' and get a fresh perspective on very real issues facing the Internet today. It was both educational and an opportunity to role-play how potential solutions may affect different parts of the industry," said Martin.

Hypothetical Panellists

Geoff Huston

Geoff Huston is the Chief Scientist at APNIC where he undertakes research on topics associated with Internet infrastructure, IP technologies and address distribution policies. He is an active member of the Internet Engineering Task Force, where he currently chairs two Working Groups.

Xing Li

Xing Li is a Professor of the Electronic Engineering Department at Tsinghua University, Beijing, China. He is also the deputy director of the China Education and Research Network (CERNET) Center and project director of TEIN2 NOC. He is formal chairman of Asia Pacific Networking Group (APNG) and a member of executive council of APNIC.

Akinori Maemura

Akinori Maemura is the General Manager for JPNIC's IP Department since 2007 and current Chair of the APNIC Executive Committee. Akinori has been an APNIC EC member since 2000 and Chair of the EC since 2003.

Dr Frank March

Dr Frank March is the Senior Specialist Advisor in the Digital Development Group of the New Zealand Government's Ministry of Economic Development (MED) and is the New Zealand delegate to the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee.

Tulika Pandey

An Electronics and Telecommunications Engineer, Tulika has been with the Government of India since 1992 and holds the position of Director with the Department of Information Technology, Ministry of Communications & Information Technology.

Gaurab Raj Upadhaya

Gaurab Raj Upadhaya is director of the Nepal Research and Education Network and assists with NREN network design and deployment. He is currently employed as an Analyst and Network Engineer by Packet Clearing House (www.pch.net).

David Woodgate

David Woodgate has held several roles involving network engineering, construction, operations and planning of Telstra's backbone operations. David is currently the General Manager for IP Address Planning in Telstra.

The Hypothetical was moderated by:

Jonny Martin

Jonny Martin has been actively involved with the New Zealand Internet since 1998, working in various technical roles starting at Telecom, then Alcatel, CityLink, and currently FX Networks.

Photos and transcripts are available on request. Video/audio recordings of the session will be available soon, at: http://www.apnic.net/meetings/26