The Internet hit an important milestone Thursday. The group that manages the Internet's domain name system just handed out the last five blocks of addresses that use the original Internet protocol system known as IPv4.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number made clear that this news will not affect average Internet users. But it will require websites to eventually transition to the next generation Internet protocol known as IPv6.
At a news conference in Miami, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom described the event as "one of the most important days in the Internet's history. It marks far more than a transition from one Internet address protocol to another. It marks the successful growth of the Internet."
Still, Beckstrom and other officials stressed that Internet users should not notice any difference. "This event is insignificant" for Internet users, Internet Architecture Board Chairman Olaf Kolkman said. "Next week the Internet won't be significantly different than it was a week ago."
ICANN's Internet Assigned Numbers Authority allocated the last blocks, containing about 60 million IPv4 addresses, to the five Regional Internet Registries on Thursday.
When asked how long it will take each region to exhaust their final allocation of IPv4 addresses, Raúl Echeberría, chairman of the Number Resources Organization that represents the regional registries, said it will depend on each region but said he expects the Asia-Pacific region will run out first. An official with that organization added that the Asia-Pacific regional registry, like the others, has a plan in place to ration the remaining IPv4 addresses and expected it would take five to 10 years to completely exhaust them all.
There are about 4.3 billion IPv4 addresses in total, with most of those now in use, but the transition to IPv6 will provide a "billion-trillion times" more addresses, Beckstrom said. Kolkman added that IPv6 will help enable the rollout of new technologies and innovations that are not possible under the current IPv4-based Internet.
ICANN and the other officials from Internet-technical groups called on companies, organizations and governments to help bring attention to the need to transition to IPv6.
"The older generation will not go away. It still has a lot to contribute," Internet Society President and CEO Lynn St. Amour said. "But the sooner we all move to adopt IPv6, the better."
In the meantime, many companies, organizations and others who use the Internet will have to make technical modifications to accommodate both IPv4 and IPv6 and eventually will only be given IPv6 addresses.
While major Internet firms like Google and Facebook have adapted their systems for IPv6, the Internet Society has helped organize World IPv6 Day on June 8 "to motivate organizations" around the world to transition to IPv6, St. Amour said. As part of this effort, Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Akamai and others will offer their content over IPv6 for a 24-hour "test drive," she added.