The Internet Is Full?

10 Sep The Internet Is Full?

Did you notice the internet starting to break last month? Sites like Amazon, LinkedIn and eBay all suffered outages, along with some major internet service providers like Virgin and BT. And it was all because of an obscure protocol known as IPv4.

Every device that connects to the web needs its own IP Address, and in recent years the number of connected devices has skyrocketed. The old system that manages this network of connections is known as IPv4, and it has a simple but potentially catastrophic limitation: it’s getting full!


In an effort to get more out of the IPv4 system, Internet Service Providers have been using increasingly complicated hacks to divide up the space they have, and that in turn has been adding complexity to the network itself.

Why was this a problem last month?

Many older routers can only handle up to 512,000 entries in their connection tables, and last month saw the number of IP groups tip over the 512k mark. Older routers with the space limit started playing up, and connectivity issues were felt across the entire internet. Amazon went down, eBay went down, and ISPs like BT and Virgin (and AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon in the US) all experienced connectivity problems.

So we have to stop connecting devices to the internet?

Not at all. In the short term, the simple answer is for ISPs to upgrade their routers; now the 512k mark has been passed it will be a while before the next generation of routers hit their limit, so it’s unlikely that we’ll see outages like last month’s again any time soon.

In the longer term, IPv4 needs to be phased out. It already has a successor in the form of IPv6, which is better across the board (and being “two better” is sure to impress Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnell). Changing to a new protocol is a slow process, but most ISPs are there already.