Shortage of Web Addresses | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 23.02.2002
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Shortage of Web Addresses

The European Commission has warned that the number of available web addresses could run out by 2005 and has called for the introduction of a plan to circumvent the site shortage.


There may not be much to surf by 2005

The worldwide web is apparently not as unlimited as some people might think.

Technology experts in Brussels have predicted that the number of free urls or available web addresses will only last until about 2005. At that time there will be no unclaimed address combinations left.

To prevent such a shortage of sites, the European Commission on Thursday proposed an action plan for the accelerated introduction of the so-called Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6), a key technology for the next generation of internet.

The IPv6 which was developed in 1998 as a pilot project to replace the smaller Internet Protocol Version 4 (IPv4) enables considerably more combinations of web addresses. Whereas the earlier IP version had only 32 bits, the new address form has 28, providing a virtual quantum leap in the number of internet locations available for the future.

Websites for everyone

The IPv4 technology was conceived in the 1970s and enabled some four billion addresses – more than enough to meet the demand for new websites in the early years of the internet.

Today, in order to provide every person his or her own address in the worldwide computer network – the goal of internet policy planners – the way needs to be paved for a new generation of technology: the Ipv6.

The new technology also needs to be distributed more evenly. Nearly 74 percent of the available IPv4 addresses have been assigned to North American organizations. Two American universities, for example, have more IP addresses than the entire People’s Republic of China.

New technology

The European Commission is especially concerned that the current IP technology is not sophisticated enough to meet the demands of the near future.

With the third generation (3G) of wireless telecommunication between computers and mobile phones already underway, it’s just a matter of time before the remaining IP addresses are snatched up.

The telecommunication industry criticizes IPv4 for hindering the development of some of the most advanced 3G technology systems. And the EU warns that this could have serious implications for Europe’s position as world leader in telecommunications.

Proponents of the new internet generation say that with its billions of new addresses, IPv6 would enable everyone on the planet to have a personal website. It would also make the obstacles to 3G technology obsolete by providing a more stable, powerful and secure internet.

With IPv6, Europe hopes to translate its leadership in mobile communications research into stronger positions in fields such as network equipment and consumer electronics, areas in which Europe has generally played a consumer rather than a supplier role.

Beyond research

"IPv6 is a critical technology for enabling the convergence of the internet with mobile communications, an area where Europe leads the world," said Erkki Liikanen, EU Commissioner for Enterprise and the Information Society.

Europe already leads the world in IPv6 research, and the EU alone contributes some 55 million euro to projects in the next internet generation.

But rolling out new technology is not merely a technical problem, Liikanen warns. Europe’s "first-class research efforts have to be matched by political commitment" from EU member states and industry to ensure smooth and rapid implementation of IPv6.

The EU Commission’s Committee for Enterprise and the Information Society calls for concerted and consolidated efforts from member states in sustaining research, accelerating technology standards, and promoting awareness throughout the economy of IPv6.

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