The IPv4 and IPv6 protocols refer to the way in which web addresses are created and assigned. Each website has a unique IP address, represented by a string of numbers, such as 192.168.1.1, which are then given a user-friendly web address, such as telegraph.co.uk, to make them easier to remember.
The IPv4 protocol uses 32-bit addresses, which enables the web to support around 4.3 billion unique addresses. By contrast, IPv6 uses 128-bit web addresses, creating billions of possible new web addresses – experts estimate it could assign a unique address for every blade of grass on the planet.
The EC survey found that of the 610 government, educational and other industry organisations questioned across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, just 17 per cent have upgraded to IPv6. The Commission has warned that the timely deployment of the protocol is vital to the growth and stability of the internet.
"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.
Switching to IPv6 is relatively straightforward, said Pickles, but will require significant investment from companies and internet service providers.
"Some additional spending will be required to migrate to the new addressing format, and ensure that systems using the old IPv4 format can interface with new IPv6 networks," he said. "Initial installation of new equipment will most likely affect systems at the edge of the corporate network, interfacing with the internet, such as routers and firewalls."
The move to the IPv6 protocol will also necessitate some changes to domestic set-ups, said Pickles, but it should be a relatively straightforward process.
"Consumers will eventually also need to replace equipment in the home, although this is likely to be introduced by ISPs in gradual stages," he said. "The most likely device needing replacement initially will be the home broadband router, connected to the phone line."