The Internet is running out of IP addresses. The American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN) doled out its last batch of large packages of addresses early in July. While this doesn’t spell the end of the Internet, it is the end of the Internet as we’ve known it. Now, a new system will need to be implemented to keep the Web up and running.

What are IP addresses?

IP addresses are essentially Internet ID tags. They are the string of numbers that designate the location from which a connection originates. You’ll find these numbers on routers, in your browser’s address bar, and on your smartphone. They tell you who is doing what and where online.

The original system, known as IPv4, has been in place for 30 years and included roughly four billion unique IDS. The batch uses a string of numbers and dots to denote the location of a server or computer. While four billion IP addresses might seem like a lot, it’s actually small number when you consider that large Internet Service Providers (ISPs) often purchase them in packages of millions at a time.

A New System

ARIN claims they still have small blocks of IP addresses available until the end of August, but they are smaller than what is required by many ISPs. Since running out of large blocks of IP addresses, ARIN has been placing customers on a waiting list until a new batch can be prepared. IP addresses currently cost between $6 and $12 each, with the possibility of supply and demand driving up costs.

Luckily, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has been preparing for this day since the early ’90s. The IPv4 addresses use a 32-bit numbering system, while the new system, known as IPv6, is a 128-bit system. By increasing the limit of numbers allowed in an IP address to 128-bit, the IETF has created a system that allows for a nearly unlimited number of new addresses.

Limitless might not be entirely accurate, but the IETF is claiming there are approximately 340 trillion trillion trillion possible new combinations. The likelihood of running out of those is slim to none.

The Next Challenge

The challenge now is getting larger networks to enable 128-bits systems. While most operating systems are capable of handling the 128-bit IPv6 structure, they haven’t been enabled to do so. Since most operating systems still work on the IPv4 structure, companies haven’t felt an urgent need to invest in a complete overhaul to their systems. Popular systems like Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows have already installed IPv6 in their latest releases. To find out if your system is compatible, contact your OS provider.

Google statistics show 7.5 percent of users are using IPv6 operating systems while the rest are still using IPv4. For the new IP addresses to work without issue, everyone will need to make the jump eventually. With the depletion of IPv4 addresses, businesses and websites will eventually be forced to support IPv6. The threat isn’t immediate, and there’s no current deadline as to when businesses and individuals must make the switch. The IPv6 addresses and system were designed to work in cooperation with IPv4, so they are backward compatible for now.

Eventually, websites will work only on the IPv6 platform, so unless you make the jump you might get left behind and lose access to new sites. It’ll be years before this happens, though.

The necessity of this transition is a fun example of how rapidly Internet use in the U.S. and around the world is growing. The IPv4 system was created at a time when it wasn’t expected to connect a global Internet, and now we are implementing a system that can handle a virtually unlimited amount of unique addresses in order to keep up with demand.