Without an immediate technology transition, the Internet could run out of addresses as early as next year, warns a new report.
The survey, conducted by the European Commission, found that of the 610 government, educational and other industry organizations questioned across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, just 17 per cent have upgraded to a new Internet addressing technique called IPv6.
These aren't the Web address you type into a browser to surf to your favorite website, but rather the underlying Internet protocol addresses that denote individual devices connected to the Internet. These form the foundation for all online communications, from e-mail and web pages to voice chat and streaming video.
And they're almost gone.
"We'll be down to our last tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of web addresses by the end of next year," warned Sam Pickles, lead enterprise engineer of F5 Networks, in an interview with the Telegraph. "New companies looking to establish a presence on the internet will have no option but to adopt the IPv6 address format."
Making the transition from the current system, called IPv4, to the IPv6 format is relatively straightforward, though it involves the purchase of new networking equipment. But support has been built into Windows and Macintosh computers for years.
When the current IP address scheme was introduced in 1981, there were fewer than 500 computers connected to the Internet. Its founders could be forgiven for thinking that the 4 billion names created would last for ever. Less than 30 years later, the Internet is rapidly running out. Every day thousands of new devices ranging from massive web servers down to individual mobile phones go online and gobble up more combinations and permutations.
“Shortages are already acute in some regions,” London's Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development told the Times of London. “The situation is critical for the future of the Internet economy.”
As addresses run dry we will all feel the pinch: Internet speeds will drop and new connections and services will either be expensive or simply impossible to obtain. The IPv6 solution was agreed upon more than a decade ago, providing enough addresses for billions upon billions of devices as well as improving Internet phone and video calls, and possibly even helping to end e-mail spam.
The Times of London contributed to this report.