Many C-level executives are unaware their IT organizations could be sitting on a lucrative sellable supply of unused IPv4 addresses.  Assessing and executing on the opportunity takes planning, but there's a clear path for getting it done.

In 2014 and 2015, buyers had their pick of large block holders with millions of available and unused numbers.  This surplus allowed large buyers to shop around for the lowest offer and, as a result, drive prices down to a low of $4/number.   The combination of low unit prices and large quantities of easily accessible address space stimulated a buying spree with over 50 million numbers transferred globally in 2015.

With the “low hanging fruit” sold off in 2015 and effective depletion of ARIN’s, RIPE’s and APNIC’s IPv4 free pools, the supply of IPv4 numbers in North America, Europe and APAC diminished significantly.   Demand, however, did not.  This drove prices up considerably in 2016.  Prices are expected to continue their upward trend.

C-level executives are doing all they can to control costs, increase margins and drive revenue growth.  But many of them are unaware that their IT organizations could be holding onto lucrative sellable assets.

Address space flowing into the trading market often originates from companies that were given large quantities of “legacy” IPv4 numbers back in the 1980s and 90s, but no longer need so much address space.  By selling their unused numbers, savvy address holders add directly (and often significantly) to their bottom lines while also helping the Internet community bridge the gap between IPv4 free pool depletion and full IPv6 migration.

Market conditions are now producing considerable upward pressures on both demand and prices.   This will increase sell-side opportunities and returns over the next two to three years, which will make it easier for executives to justify investing in renumbering projects to optimize their address space utilization, and free up IPv4 blocks for sale.  Assessing the opportunities and executing IPv4 sale strategies takes some planning.  Below is a map to getting it done.

• Figure out what you have.   Getting a good handle on a company’s IPv4 inventory is the executive’s first, most important step in understanding the value of the potential opportunity.   The ARIN whois registry is a good place to start but may not tell the full story, particularly if the company has been involved in mergers or acquisitions.

• Figure out what you can sell.   If a block is registered in the company’s name, unadvertised and otherwise unused internally, then it may be a good candidate for immediate sale subject to validating that the numbers have not been hijacked by a third party and do not have negative reputations or blacklist scores.   But things are often more complex, and require prospective sellers to perform some pre-work to clean up the registration records and renumber their space for greater usage efficiency and aggregation.   The good news is that the returns on a sale typically dwarf the costs incurred.

• Bring your in-house counsel on board.  Five years after the market’s public emergence with the Microsoft-Nortel sale, some still question the legality of buying and selling numbers, and regard the market with suspicion.   Their concerns are unfounded.  Internet governance institutions fully recognize and openly promote the marketplace as the only meaningful resource for their members to obtain IPv4 resources.  And federal courts, typically in bankruptcy proceedings, have approved the conveyance of IPv4 numbers as alienable assets.

• Get the technical team on board.  Queries to the IT department often yield a “no can do” response. They may be uncomfortable with the marketplace.  For years, Internet community dogma relied on the erroneous assumption that IPv4 numbers could not be bought and sold.  Breaking this fallacy is only the first internal hurdle.  Network engineers may be reluctant to unload now valuable resources in anticipation of IPv4 use cases even if the address space has been underutilized for years.  The most significant push back is, however, more pragmatic.  With a full plate of pending projects and limited internal IT personnel available, IT managers may resist diverting resources required to conduct an address space usage assessment and execute a renumbering plan.   But success in the endeavor depends on the support of the IT team.   In our experience, the necessary level of IT department engagement follows when finance, legal and IT work collaboratively to evaluate the real risks and balance them against the potential gains in pursuit of the company’s financial objectives.

Fortunately, there are external resources and qualified advisors available to help guide organizations through the process from beginning to end.  There are also RIR policy changes in the works that will make it easier for buyers and sellers to transact business more efficiently and transparently in the near future.

Mining for gold has never been so easy.