A new Internet system upgrade has been introduced, which will enable countless new IP addresses. Although users will probably not notice, some analysts have reservations about the move.
A new Internet standard which will allow the creation of trillions of new IP addresses was enabled on Wednesday, although internet users are unlikely to register the change.
The standard, called Internet Protocol (IPv6), was introduced at 0001 GMT. It dramatically increases the internet's IP address capacity from the current 4.3 billion to a number in the trillions.
"To ensure the Internet can continue to grow and connect billions more people and devices around the world, thousands of companies and millions of websites have now permanently enabled the next generation of Internet Protocol (IPv6) for their products and services," said the Internet Society, an advisory panel.
"Participants in World IPv6 Launch include the four most visited websites in the world - Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Yahoo! - as well as home router manufacturers and Internet Service Providers in more than 100 countries," the organization said. "By making IPv6 the 'new normal,' these companies are enabling millions of end users to enjoy its benefits without having to do anything themselves."
The development is an inevitable result of the growth of the web, according to Vint Cerf, one of the inventors of IPv6.
"When the Internet launched operationally in 1983, its creators never dreamed that there might be billions of devices and users trying to get online," he said.
"Yet now, almost three decades later, that same Internet serves nearly 2.5 billion people and 11 billion devices across the globe. And we're running out of space."
Although every internet-enabled device - such as a computer or mobile smartphone - technically needs its own IP address to connect to the web, because of the shortage of addresses many devices currently end up sharing IPs. The change would make it possible for every device to now get its own address.
But the new standard has not been praised by all. Some analysts warn that internet users with older equipment may run into trouble because the "path" to websites using compatible equipment could change.
Privacy advocates are also worried that enabling each device to have its own IP could compromise online anonymity.
The data protection commissioner from the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, Thilo Weichert, has called for IP-Addresses to continue to be dynamically assigned in order to protect the anonymity of users.
"We want to continue with the applicable standards of IPv4, which make it difficult to identify an individual user," Weichert told the daily Frankfurter Rundschau.
The new IPv6 standard does, however, also have its own data protection system, which should - in theory - make it possible for browsers to surf anonymously.
The full transition to IPv6 is anticipated to take several years, with IPv4 networks continuing to operate as before.
sej/slk (AFP, dpa)