UK Sells Off Unused Net Addresses

The UK government has started to sell off net addresses that are no longer in use.

The addresses are becoming valuable as the net has almost outgrown the addressing scheme it adopted in the 70s, and if the UK sells off all the surplus addresses it owns, it could receive up to £15m. Some fear however that if addresses are shared out more widely, data could go astray.

The surplus addresses are all part of a much bigger block of 16 million addresses given to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) in 1993.

An official report produced before the DWP began its investigation suggested 70% was used for the UK government's internal network, leaving around 5 million for disposal.

A spokesman for the government said: "Government periodically reviews all its assets to consider their financial value, including options to release income from those that are not used to their fullest potential.

"The scope of the value of these assets is commercially sensitive and protected by standard legal confidentiality agreements."

The net addresses are seen to be valuable due to the hard limit in the numbering system they use and are known as IP Version 4 (IPv4).

In practice there are fewer available because some are reserved for other users.

The net is currently in the process of moving to IP Version 6 which has an almost endless supply. Technical incompatibilities between the two versions however mean many firms are seeking to expand their existing IPv4 addresses at 4.3 billion.

President of address broker IPv4 Market Group Sandra Brown said: "Supply has met demand but we are reaching a point where supply is about to fall short and we have seen prices escalate because of that.

"Most of the people I talk to say it will take five to 10 years to convert."

Doug Madory from network specialist Dryn said there were concerns about what happened when that finite stock of addresses was divided very finely.

He said: "People typically try to deal with addresses in contiguous blocks to keep the binary math from getting unwieldy leading to errors.

"As you slice it thinly the number of routes gets larger and larger and it's computationally expensive to look up where each packet has to go."

He added that delays in transferring ownership had already led to some data going astray.

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