Analysts are warning of an impending shortage of new IP addresses which could force companies to begin opting for private 'overlay' networks rather than public internet domains.
Research firm Nemertes predicted in a recent report that the Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) system will run out of new addresses by 2012, resulting in an internet system that " fractures" into smaller pieces.
"Requirements for multi-homing - providing multiple, separate routes to a given address - and ever-increasing mobility are placing added stress on the current internet logical infrastructure," said Nemertes senior analyst Dr Mike Jude. "In effect, the internet could fracture back into groups of networks."
The research firm is not alone in its fears of an IP shortage. The American Registry for Internet Numbers said in its Notice of IPv4 Address Depletion report (PDF) that IPv4 could be depleted within two years, and urged companies to begin a switch to the newer IPv6 system which carries a far larger capacity.
Even this may not be enough, according to Nemertes. The firm argues that companies have not been moving fast enough to adopt IPv6, calling the plan "too little too late".
Nemertes said that just one per cent of companies it surveyed had begun the upgrade to IPv6.
"None of this means the internet will abruptly stop working. Instead, the slowdown will be in the area of innovation," said Nemertes research analyst Ted Ritter. "Ultimately, access bandwidth limitations will hamper deployment of next-generation applications."