Internet Protocol (IP) addresses are used to route traffic on the Internet and can be seen as the backbone of the Internet. IP addresses are used to uniquely identify hosts that are connected to the Internet. Currently, we have two versions of IP addresses, IPv4 and the more recent IPv6.
IPv4 addresses, on which the Internet has been running for more than twenty (20) years now, are 32-bit addresses and are limited in number - we are talking of about 4 billion addresses shared worldwide (the current world population is about 6.2 billion). Further, the demand for IP addresses has increased exponentially mainly due to the increased usage of the Internet. We now have mobile phones, TV sets, refrigerators, cars, robots, cameras connected and controlled through the Internet. Soon, human beings may also be connected to the Internet and all this depends on the availability of IP addresses.
The depletion of IPv4 addresses, essentially due to this rapid growth of the Internet during the past few years, will mean that more hosts cannot be connected to the Internet and this will hinder the growth of the Internet, now seen as the economic driving force of the 21st century. A solution to this is the deployment of IPv6, which is the new IP protocol and which provides for a much larger number of addresses. Note that the depletion of IPv4 addresses is envisaged to happen within the next 3-4 years (by 2011).
IPv6, the new version of IP addresses, was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF, http://www.ietf.org/) in the 90's to cater for mainly the depletion of IPv4 addresses. IPv6 addresses are 128-bit - we have 340 undecillion (340 * 10^36) possible unique addresses. This provides for the possibility of assigning an IP address to "every grain of sand on earth".
About Internet Resources Management
Internet Number Resources, mainly IP addresses and Autonomous System Numbers (ASN), in Africa are managed and assigned by AfriNIC . Each continent has a similar organisation, generally referred to as a Regional Internet Registry (RIR).
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