What are IP addresses?

IP addresses are “critical resources” in the sense that they are required in order to be able to participate in today’s economic activities. Indeed, the IP address space is commonly considered to be a public resource that must be managed in a prudent manner with regards to the long-term interests of the Internet. Governments have historically been involved in the allocation of telecommunication naming, numbering and addressing resources, with the exception of Internet resources. At present, a number of telecommunication resources are allocated by ITU (and specifically, ITU-T) at the international level. Each country then allocates resources at the national level using methods that are determined nationally. Spectrum and orbit management by ITU can be viewed as an example of resource management practice to ensure ‘equitable access’ at the international level (Appendix 30B of the Radio Regulations), taking into account future as well as current requirements.

What is the role of the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs)?

IP addressing resources were at first centrally allocated. Later, regional management of IP addresses was introduced to better meet the needs of users. The reason, as stated in Request for Proposals (RFC) 1366 of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was: “The major reason to distribute the registration function is that the Internet serves a more diverse global population than it did at its inception. This means that registries which are located in distinct geographic areas may be better able to serve the local community in terms of language and local customs.” An analysis of IP address allocation data shows that there are imbalances in IPv4 allocation. In the words of Number Resource Organization (NRO), these imbalances are due to historical reasons: “During the 1980s and early 1990s, early adopters of the Internet were able to receive IPv4 address space under the allocation policies that existed at the time. These early adopter organizations were allocated and often still hold many more addresses than they would be allocated under present allocation principles, placing them in a relatively advantaged position today. This enduring imbalance is not a result of the current principles but rather a reflection that different allocation principles were in place in the past.

Where does IPv6 fit in?

IPv6 was developed primarily to solve the IPv4 depletion problem. Concerns on IPv6 address management have been expressed that “allocation policies for IP addresses should ensure balanced access to resources on a geographical basis” and “Transition to IPv6 should ensure that allocation policies for IP addresses provide equitable access to resources.” Differing points of view have been expressed with respect to IP address allocation. Some take the view that the current IP address management has been worked well and there is no need to change it; on the other hand, others have argued for the need to review the current system because of the rapid increase of demand and use of the Internet, in order to “ensure equitable distribution of resources and access for all into the future”. In response to that position, some have argued that any changes in the allocation mechanism would result in technical risks such as disruption of the current routing aggregation. According to the NRO, “IP addresses are allocated according to immediate need wherever that need is demonstrated, in accordance with well-known allocation principles”, the current allocation policy is based on the immediate needs of users. Thus the current mechanism may be favorable to early adopters (some of whom may have already mature network infrastructures and relatively big budgets). That is, the allocation mechanism based on current immediate needs might tend to maintain the historical imbalances and especially affect developing countries. Because of these concerns, further studies in this area have been suggested. More information on this can be found in the 2009 ITU-T Background Paper on IPv6 Address Allocation and Registration issues available here.

IPv4 to IPv6 migration

Thus, IP addresses are fundamental resources that are essential for the future development of telecommunication/information and communication technologies IP-based networks and for the world economy. Many countries believe that there are historical imbalances related to IPv4 allocation and that large contiguous blocks of IPv4 addresses are becoming scarce and that it is (therefore) urgent to promote migration to IPv6. With the deployment of Internet-related resources worldwide and the integration of IP-enabled consumer devices connected directly to the network, the issue of the depletion of IPv4 (Internet Protocol, version 4) addresses is becoming pertinent. In addition to other features, IPv6 (Internet Protocol, version 6) with its 128 bit address space is aimed at addressing the current shortage of public IPv4 addresses. However, the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 is progressing at a rather slow rate. Development of IPv6 by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) began in 1993. It arose out of an evaluation and design process that began in 1990 and considered a number of options and a range of different protocol alternatives. The design process was essentially complete, and a protocol specified, in the first half of 1995, although related work continues. The current version of the specification was published, after considerable implementation experience had been obtained, at the end of 1998. However, a number of other changes were made in formats and the interpretation of data fields. Those changes are intended to make the network operate better in the long term and to expand options for the design of efficient protocols, but their presence makes transition more complex than it would have been with address space expansion alone. Until a few years ago, some communities argued that IPv4 address space exhaustion would not happen, or would be avoided. However, there is now general consensus that measures should be taken urgently to deal with the growing scarcity of IPv4 address space.

ITU is working closely with other organizations (e.g. IETF, Regional Internet Registries or RIRs and/or the Number Resource Organization (NRO)) and ICANN) and as a unique public/private partnership, composed of 191 governments and more than 700 private sector entities, can complement the work currently undertkaen by these entities by providing mechanisms for a consensus-based approach to deployment, management and policy making strategies relating to IPv6.

More specifically, ITU is contributing actively in areas such as:

  • Promotion, capacity building and technical assistance for developing countries;
  • Cooperation and contribution to the work of relevant organizations (e.g. RIRs);
  • Technical and standardization issues as appropriate.

More information on IPv6 deployment; the issues, challenges and information on successful implementations and assistance programs, can be found in the resources below.

ITU papers

ITU IPv6 related Resolutions and Recommendations

Other Resources and Links

General resources

Resources shared by regional and national organizations

IPv6 e-Learning and training resources

Other papers and reading material on IPv6

News and blogs

Go to the main ITU and IPv6 website.