Shortage of IPv4 Web addresses could impact smart grid, lighting, buildings, appliances

Reports surfaced last week that we’re running out of Web addresses. The Number Resource Organization, which is in charge of allocating Web addresses based on the IPv4 standard, warned that there is less than 10 per cent of these addresses left and that a severe shortage — and “grave consequences” —¬†will be upon us if we don’t migrate quickly to the new IPv6 standard, which offers a virtually unlimited number of addresses.¬† “The limited IPv4 addresses will not allow us enough resources to achieve the ambitions we all hold for global Internet access,” said NRO chairman Axel Pawlik. “The deployment of IPv6 is a key infrastructure development that will enable the network to support the billions of people and devices that will connect in the coming years.”

Most media coverage has highlighted the growth in laptops, mobile devices, servers and routers, but more eye-opening is the coming wave of “smart” grid devices that will need to have their own IP addresses. Thermostats, smart meters, dish washers, laundry machines/dryers, intelligent lighting (in homes and buildings), electric cars — really any appliances or devices or machine that will be controlled remotely through the Internet. Here’s a question I honestly have no answer to: Are energy management and smart grid/appliance companies — General Electric, for example — aware of this coming shortage of IP addresses, and have they taken the necessary measures to avoid the crisis?

Network World had an informative article on this issue in October.

Apparently it’s not difficult to migrate from IPv4 to IPv6, but it does require a lot of investment in software and hardware upgrades. Will the energy sector be caught off guard by this? I’d love to open this up for discussion from some more knowledgeable people… please enlighten us.

2 thoughts on “Shortage of IPv4 Web addresses could impact smart grid, lighting, buildings, appliances”

  1. I don’t think you have to worry about companies like GE not knowing we are running out of IP Addresses- that is really not the question for a company like GE- it is not up to them to just assign IP Addresses to their appliances. They will not get any IPv4 addresses for their appliances- they will have to wait fror IPv6. For example, every NIC (Network Interface Card) that is manufactured- the port you plug your Ethernet or LAN cable into, each has a unique MAC address- this is handled by the IEEE who assigns manufacturers numbers, who then in turn keep track of their own MAC address space.

    I would imagine that, when the time comes, something similar will be set up with IPv6, with maybe IETF, who has/is developing IPv6, handling the addresses. If any devices, smart grid devices included, are going to get an IP Address, it is going to have to wait for a broader adoption of IPv6- and that may take years! Through NAT (Network Address Translation) and other techniques, we have been able to forestall the end of the IPv4 addressing, so there is a lot of inertia not to change. Eventually, we will have to, but I do not think it is going to happen quickly. That said, individual companies could set up their own networks with either IPv4 or IPv6, just like they do now. So, for example, a utility company could set up their own internal network of Smart Meters with IPv6, with maybe someway for the meter to identify a homeowner’s appliances and give them temporary IP Addresses- much like current, internal networks for almost all businesses.

    So, at least for now, what Appliance companies like GE might need to consider, is what do they need to implement into their appliances that a Smart Meter can use, whether it is an appliance identifier, or a means to accept an identifier, like an IP Address. Of course, then you do not have a National Network of Smart Grids talking to each other And this is not necessarilly a bad thing- a utility company, again much like a large business today, can keep their network structure private and thus more secure. Frankly, the idea of a National Network, given the exploits of today’s hackers, is a scary idea to me.

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