It's Y2K all over again as another crisis hits the Internet. Or is it like the McApocalypse, when the economy was going to crash over the cost of fixing all those signs when McDonald's exceeded 99 billion burgers sold.

Or not.

Back in 1981, the engineers who were inventing the Internet developed IPv4, the one most of us use today, creating 4.3 billion Internet addresses. It seemed like a lot at the time, but they ran out in Asia and Europe a few years ago and are running out in America now, thanks to the proliferation of connected devices from phones to fridges to my light bulbs.

The Europeans and Asians switched to IPv6, a replacement standard agreed on back in 1998. Instead of a unique computer address composed of Base 10 numbers like this,, the new standard is base 16, or hexadecimal, with letters filling in for 11 through 15, so a new address looks like this: 2001:db48:1f70:54e3:9399:def8:7648:6ef8. Fortunately, unlike your old phone number, you don't have to memorize it. However, computers like it a lot better; they think in binary, base 2, and it's more efficient to convert a number from a power of 2 (like 4, 8, 16 or 32) than it is to convert from 10.

According to The Wall Street Journal, this "allows for a mind-boggling increase in addresses to 340 undecillion, or 340 followed by 36 zeroes, enough to assign an IP address to every gram of matter on Earth."

So if everyone has known this was coming for years, why was nothing ever done to prepare for it? It appears to be the American Way. Look at credit cards; everyone knew that chip and pin cards were more secure and the rest of the world switched to them years ago, but American banks didn't want to pay the cost of the conversion. It took a massive data breach at Target to convince everyone that perhaps paying for better security is a good idea.

It appears that the same thing is happening here. According to the WSJ:

The upgrade isn’t cheap. Research firm Gartner says a companywide migration costs about 7% of the company’s annual IT budget. Companies spent $2.2 trillion on IT in 2014, according to the researchers at Forrester. Eventually everyone on the Internet will have to make the leap, but businesses with a big Internet presence have an incentive to put it off for as long as possible.

And so it is once again, an avoidable crisis. For most consumers, it won't be a problem; Google and Facebook, the two biggest sites people deal with, prepared for this years ago. (I don't know about MNN. I'll check with my editor to make sure the site doesn't cra ....)

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.