Jimmerson believes organizations are less likely to engage in black marketing if their business names are attached to the numbers being trafficked.
"It's very likely that over the next year the community will continue to fine-tune the address allocation policy set, which includes both IPv4 and IPv6," Jimmerson says.
Such a move could mean price increases as depletion nears. Under today's rules, a small organization would pay a minimum of $1,250 annually for a /24 assignment, which represents 256 addresses, the smallest block that can be portably routed on the Internet. Smaller allocations than this must be obtained from an ISP, at the cost of a few dollars per month per IP address. Larger organizations could pay between $4,500 and $18,000 per year, but in all cases address holders must provide justification to their registry to continue using IPv4 allocations.
IPv4 black market: Staving off inevitability
As IPv4 nears exhaustion, Oberman's vision of a pricey black market could still materialize, even with ARIN's new transfer policy.
"The problem is big enough that you'll never have 100 percent enforcement, which is why we have a small black market today," Oberman says. "People could start speculating, and that will drive prices up on both black and white markets."
A possible stress reliever could come in the form of forced reclamation of unused, or fraudulently used, IP space.
"The community had an opportunity two years ago to choose reclamation over the new transfer policy. We determined that reclamation could gain four to six /8s, which would be a painful process that at best that would forestall exhaustion four to six months," says Jimmerson.
But ARIN and its sister registries have the authority to reclaim space if necessary, because users are only loaned use of IP numbers.
"ARIN has put a lot of energy into anti-fraud procedures," says Jimmerson. "As we run out of this valuable resource, we actively apply these anti-fraud measures that include vetting organizations, scrutinizing justification, as well as providing a mechanism for people to report fraud and misuse, to avoid hoarding and speculation."
Jimmerson points out a twist to the IPv4 exhaustion problem: An IANA global resource policy calls for the remaining five /8s to be immediately distributed to the RIRs as soon as that trigger point is reached, which ARIN believes will likely occur in 2011, although current usage suggests it could happen later this year.
"When that happens, we have a reserved /10 block [4.2 million IP addresses] set aside for organizations that run IPv6 but need one or two IPv4 addresses for protocol transition," Jimmerson says.
Except for this reserve pool, however, Jimmerson expects the last addresses will be issued by registries anywhere from one day to six months after this IANA trigger occurs.
IPv4 black market: Escaping the black
Both Jimmerson and Oberman agree that businesses have no time to lose in moving to IPv6. While IPv4 will be needed for the foreseeable future, the sooner the Internet community abandons this legacy protocol, the less impact any potential black market could have on Internet commerce. They predict that many new servers will be IPv6-exclusive, gradually isolating IPv4-only Internet users.