The Future of the MAC address

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MAC address
What is gonna happen if/when we run out of mac addresses?
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A MAC address is made up of 6 bytes written as 12 hex digits. For example: 00-80-C8-E3-4C-BD. Of this address, the first 3 bytes (00-80-C8) identifies the card’s manufacturer. The IEEE is the body that assigns manufacturers their IDs, called Organizationally Unique Identifiers. So, this leaves 3 bytes which can be assigned by the manufacturer to be unique to that manufacturer. So, each manufacturer can have 16,777,215 different unique ID’s for their cards (00-00-00 to ff-ff-ff). There are some unique MAC addresses though such as all broadcast ff-ff-ff-ff-ff-ff or different multicast MAC’s 01-00-5e-00-00-00 through 01-00-5e-7f-ff-ff. So, really with the number of manufacturers and unique addresses, does it seem like running out of MAC addresses is realistic?

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  • Fresh
    Yeah well, I don't think its possible...not in our lifetime anyway. But hypothetically speaking, If we did run out, what would happen?? Besides, word on the streets says even with that number of addresses, we'll be running out by 2100.
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  • Labnuke99
    Sounds like some confusion between IP addresses and MAC addresses? Do you have any references for the 2100 date you mention?
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  • Jmkelly
    Rich Seifert (one of the developers of Ethernet) used to say that the entire crust of the planet could be turned into 802.11 devices before we'd run out of MAC addresses. Presumably he ran the numbers -- I know I didn't!
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  • Fresh
    "The IEEE expects the MAC-48 space to be exhausted no sooner than the year 2100", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MAC_address. "IEEE expects MAC-48 space to be exhausted around the year 2100 by which time....", http://www.cs.umn.edu/help/network/mac.php
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  • Labnuke99
    Thanks for the link/reference. It does sound like there is a plan to go to EUI-64 addresses to cover the risk of running out of 281,474,976,710,656 addresses. The EUI-64 is part of the IPv6 plan according to the referenced article. So, they (IEEE and manufacturers) have thought through this issue.
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  • MathItOut
    Here is the Math for anyone wondering.

    To be more precise, there are 2^42 possible MAC addresses available in the current scheme which is 4.3 trillion. That would mean that every person alive right now would need to go through 620 MAC address by means of having devices that make use of a NIC. With the internet of "things" becoming more popular this will eventually cause the same problem that lead to the birth of IpV 6. 

    There very well may be the need for something that adds a doubling to the number of bits this address makes use of which would future proof it for the length of time humanity will last on this planet. The math on that would look 2^96. And that number is huge, larger than there are molecules on this planet. 
    79,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
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  • MathItOut
    That last part might be an exaggeration but still huge none the less.
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  • MathItOut
    Oh god my math was wrong and comments cant seem to be edited on this site!! its 2^48 which is a big difference. (40,200 MAC addresses per person alive right now.)
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  • Subhendu Sen
    MAC addresses can be re-used. Manufacturers usually send cards with duplicate addresses. While MAC addresses must be unique in local network.
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