A computer scientist known as one of the "godfathers of the internet" has warned that the UK could run out of new web addresses in just over a year.

Vint Cerf, the vice-president of Google, told a conference in London yesterday that the final batch of conventional internet protocol (IP) addresses – the unique numbers needed by computers to operate online – would be exhausted by early 2012.

He said unless action was taken soon, Britain would no longer be able to register new internet users and could become cut off from other countries that take up the new technology. Most computers are registered using a system of addresses known as IPv4, which allows for a maximum of 4.3 billion addresses, but the system is expected to be saturated by early 2012.

A more modern protocol called IPv6, which Mr Cerf said would provide for a potential "340 trillion, trillion, trillion" addresses, is already available.

However, speaking at the launch of 6UK, a campaign group to promote the uptake of IPv6, he accused Britain's internet providers of failing to embrace the new system. "This has to happen or the internet will stop growing," Mr Cerf said.