Apeloga Getty Images/Maskot
By Benjamin Snyder
May 13, 2015

The availability of web addresses will soon be almost completely tapped out, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The reason? A lack of inventory. And while some savvy companies — such as Microsoft (MSFT) and Salesforce.com (CRM) — have been stocking up on addresses, the expected shortage could mean significant costs for those U.S. businesses looking to expand on the Internet, the article says, as prices for Internet Protocol addresses, or IP addresses, skyrocket.

The newspaper says same thing happened in Asia in 2011, and in Europe in 2012. Here’s why web addresses are so important, according to the Journal:

IP addresses are the Internet’s equivalent of telephone numbers. These numerical codes are different from the familiar top-level domain names that end in .com or .org. They are used behind the scenes anytime data moves over the Net—when a laptop requests a Web page, a smartphone posts an Instagram photo or a Nest thermostat downloads a software update.

An address typically goes for $11.25 these days, although not for much longer. In an interview with the Journal, Sandra Brown, the president of IPv4 Market Group, which sells the addresses, said: “Prices are going to rise.”

Social media giant Facebook (FB) got wise to the impending shortage and has moved 90% of its network from the old-school IPv4 system to the next-generation IPv6, which offers a much larger number of addresses, the Journal noted.

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