The Internet Protocol Journal, Volume 12, No.3

Letter to the Editor

End of Eternity

Dear Ole,

In their "The End of Eternity" articles, (IPJ Volume 11, No. 4 and Volume 12, No. 1) Niall Murphy and David Wilson provide a detailed and compelling description of the lasting harm that could result from the exhaustion of unallocated IPv4 addresses—harm to Internet users and aspiring new entrants, to technical-coordination and fault-management mechanisms, and to the likely irreplaceable cooperative decision-making and consensus-development mechanisms that distinguish the Internet from every other important transnational sphere of activity in human history. Thankfully, the authors foresee a potential happy ending—or at least yet another chapter in the story—in "an IPv6 Internet, or at least enough of one to keep off address scarcity for a workable subset of the industry."

However, having foreshadowed how they expect the IP addressing cliffhanger to be resolved, the authors go on to detail a variety of interesting but considerably less persuasive assumptions and predictions, all based on the stipulation that establishing IPv4 address markets would represent the best means to "shorten the gap" between the end of IPv4 and the return to a "normal" state of Internet growth and development, that is, one that is unconstrained by IP address-related scarcity (or at least no more constrained than it has been over the last decade-plus of CIDR and hierarchical interdomain routing).

I believe that it is worth highlighting here the logic that binds these two engaging and well-written articles together into something that is, unfortunately, substantially less than the sum of its parts. If the authors are to be taken at their word that "an IPv6 Internet" represents the only currently feasible and also satisfactory conclusion to "the IPv4 end game," then that conclusion does not by itself entail that IPv4 markets are the only, or most obvious or effective—or even workable—candidate mechanisms for coordinating the distribution of IP addressing in the run-up to more widespread IPv6 adoption. And yet, that postulate is offered, without explanation or defense, as the grounding justification for an investigation of various optional features and collateral effects that the foretold IPv4 address market might have.

Many observers have committed untold pages and pixels to the exploration of hypothetical IPv4 address markets, both in IPJ and elsewhere, going back as far as RFC 1744 (1994). The two articles by Murphy and Wilson represent valuable additions to that growing corpus. However, to my knowledge, no other writings in this area have built on the proposition that IPv6 is indispensable; therefore, IPv4 addresses should be privately traded. To put it in the most generous possible terms, this claim is highly contestable. As separate and independent analyses, IPJ readers may derive many useful insights from these two articles, but attributing any special relevance to those insights based on any presumptive connection between IPv4 markets and the future necessity or viability of IPv6 would be a mistake.

—Tom Vest, Consultant
tvest@eyeconomics.com