Experts predict the world will run out of internet addresses in less than a year
The internet protocol used by the majority of web users, IPv4, provides for about four billion IP addresses -- the unique 32-digit number used to identify each computer, website or internet-connected device.
There are currently only 232 million IP addresses left -- enough for about 340 days -- thanks to the explosion in smartphones and other web-enabled devices.
"When the IPv4 protocol was developed 30 years ago, it seemed to be a reasonable attempt at providing enough addresses," carrier relations manager at Australian internet service provider (ISP) Internode John Lindsay told the Herald.
"Bearing in mind that at that point personal computers didn't really exist, the idea that mobile phones might want an IP address hadn't occurred to anybody because mobile phones hadn't been invented [and] the idea that air-conditioners and refrigerators might want them was utterly ludicrous."
The solution to the problem is IPv6, which uses a 128-digit address. It would give everyone in the world more than four billion addresses each, but most of the internet industry has so far been reluctant to introduce it.
It would require each device that connects to the internet to be reconfigured or upgraded, with some users even being forced to buy new hardware, the Sydney Morning Herald reported.
In the meantime ISPs may force multiple customers to share IP addresses, which may lead to common applications, such as Gmail and iTunes, ceasing to work.
There are also fears a black market of IP addresses may spring up.