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How Romania's patchwork Internet helped spawn an IP address industry

Stephen Lawson | April 9, 2015
The Eastern European country is helping satisfy demand for scarce IPv4 addresses.

The market for reassigned IPv4 addresses is growing in Europe and the Middle East, according to Dyn Research, which monitors the state of the Internet. Using information collected by RIPE, Dyn found that 1,848 blocks of addresses were transferred between Jan. 1 and March 30. The number of blocks transferred per month has grown significantly over the past year, according to Doug Madory, director of Internet analysis at Dyn.

Of those 1,848 address blocks transferred earlier this year, 58 percent came from Romanian organizations, according to Dyn. Jump Management alone was responsible for 51 percent of them. A lot of these addresses are ending up in the Middle East: About 5 percent of all the IP addresses in use in Saudi Arabia were registered in Romania just a few months ago, Madory said. In the past year, Romanian providers have also transferred addresses to the Syrian state telecommunications carrier and an Iranian service provider, he said.

The Middle East's demand for IPv4 addresses may have roots in the region's own late start on the Internet. In the 1980s and 1990s, IPv4 addresses were available to anyone who asked, but you had to ask. Middle Eastern companies and carriers may not have seen the need in time, Velea said.

To hear Velea talk, IPv4 is a thriving business. The price of one IPv4 address had been hovering around US$10-$11 over the past year, but it's inched up to a minimum of $12 as supply has dipped, he said. RIPE is expected to soon start allowing transfers outside its region, including with organizations in North America and the Asia-Pacific region, which should lead to even more activity, Velea said.

Transfers between RIPE's region and North America may start later this year if RIPE approves a rule change that would make its policies compatible with those of ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers), said Richard Jimmerson, ARIN's chief information officer. A key step will be to require that recipients prove they actually need the addresses. ARIN has already imposed such a requirement in North America to prevent hoarding, he said.

A complicated task like transferring IP addresses does have its risks. In some cases, it seems that not everyone's gotten word that a block has been transferred, Dyn's Madory said. If different routers give different directions, not all the traffic to a given address will get to the right place. Those mix-ups are rare but might increase as the number of transfers grows.

There's another way to keep adding users and devices if your IPv4 addresses run out. IPv6, already in use in some parts of some networks, has an almost unlimited number of addresses. But because most people still use IPv4, the older protocol is a safer bet for making sure users can reach your website or service. There aren't many needs forcing IT shops to adopt IPv6, so even big ones like the U.S. Department of Defense have held back.


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