The current version -- IPv4, which can accommodate 4.3 billion addresses -- would have run out of addresses by 2012, experts predict.
The switch to a new Internet address format has begun, as Web overseers look to provide a pool of virtually unlimited addresses to support the growing number of Internet-connected devices.
On Monday, records written in IPv6 were added to the Internet's root servers, making it possible for the first time for computer systems to communicate via the Web using only the new format, the London-based BBC news agency reported. The development marks a milestone in the conversion from IPv4.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers has been working toward the switch for years to avoid a time when there no longer would be enough addresses for all the smartphones, Internet-based televisions, and other gadgets hooking up to the Web. If the world continued to use the 30-year-old IPv4, which can accommodate 4.3 billion addresses, then the supply would run out by 2012, if not sooner, experts say.
While people use words and letters to find Web sites through a browser, computers use server-stored numbers associated with the URLs to communicate and deliver Web pages and services. IPv6 provides a much larger address length than IPv4, offering about 5x10^28 addresses for each of the world's 6.5 billion people.
Government, Internet service providers and other organizations have begun the transition. The U.S. Office of Management and Budget has issued a mandate that all federal networks have the ability to send and receive IPv6 packets by the middle of this year.
On the private side, Verizon Business in September said it expected to complete its IPv6 worldwide deployment on its public IP networks in 18 months. Verizon started the deployment in 2004. It expects to complete the conversion in North America this year and move into Asia-Pacific and European regions in late 2008 to 2009.
Besides accommodating the many smartphones and other mobile Internet devices coming online every day, IPv6 can also handle the many "smart" devices that manufacturers plan to connect to the Internet in the years ahead. Those devices, for example, could include refrigerators and washing machines.
The switch to IPv6, however, isn't expected to be cheap. Government and companies are expected to spend $25.4 billion between 1997 and 2025, according to some estimates. About $1.4 billion of the burden remains on infrastructure vendors, and $23.3 billion on users.
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