IPv4 addresses as "hot goods"?
With IPv4 addresses in short supply, they could become increasingly interesting and marketable goods. The Regional Internet Registries (RIR), the guardians of IP address allocation, are viewing this with concern. If they officially permit transfers or sales in the future, they will be implicitly accepting commercialisation and privatisation. Any attempt to insist on the return of addresses to the RIRs could drive trading, which is probably inevitable, underground. After a rumour went round that IP address blocks had turned up on eBay, the RIRs were compelled to begin discussing how to handle IPv4 black-marketeering. Three of the five RIRs – RIPE, ARIN and APNIC – have already prepared suggestions for transfer rules. Intensive discussions on the rules for IPv4 in the RIPE region were held at the RIPE meeting in Berlin.
Transfers of addresses already take place today, usually as part of company takeovers or mergers. Rules for such transfers are therefore necessary in any case, as the address registries have to keep the holder entries in the databases up to date. This requirement is already imposed on the self-governing bodies by the authorities.
The RIPE experts fear that a new run on IPv4 addresses and an associated flourishing trade could be stimulated in coming years because of the dwindling reserves of addresses. According to current estimates, reserves of IPv4 addresses will be exhausted in around three years, give or take 18 months. Only IPv6 addresses will then be obtainable from the RIRs themselves. RIPE and its sister registries are making great efforts to recover unused address space. RIPE NCC, the operational arm of RIPE, has written to more than one hundred and fifty address holders with addresses that don't appear in routeing tables and are evidently unused.
It's unlikely that the issue of the last IPv4 addresses can be halted, for demand is too great. True, with IPv6 there is today a source of address space that in the present view looks inexhaustible. But since the two address spaces will exist in parallel for years or decades, and new providers will also require IPv4 for a bridge between the two camps, the value of IPv4 addresses is rising.
ARIN, the IP registry for North America, favours a decision on the regulation of future trading. According to the current draft, "vendors" and "purchasers" of addresses must fulfil a series of conditions. Passing addresses on would have to be notified to ARIN so that it could check that these conditions were being met. RIPE NCC would only function as a clearing office, recording the new holder in the database. With RIPE, too, addresses that have been acquired cannot be passed on within the following 24 months.
A representative of British Telecom completely opposed such a transfer rule. The biggest address holders, he stated, were in any case a handful of large ISPs, and they were hardly interested in trading. ETNO, the association of large telecommunications operators, also opposes any liberalisation.