Major technical problems could become a regular occurrence for website users because the internet is running out of space, experts have warned.
An online breakdown caused chaos on Tuesday, costing the economy millions of pounds in lost trade and effectively closing access to a number of huge website.
Online auctioneer eBay was out of action for most of the day, with buyers and sellers inundating the site with complaints about lost business after being unable to log onto their accounts.
Hundreds of thousands of users were unable to log on and the auction site was flooded with traders demanding compensation.
The problem is understood to have been caused by the crucial ‘nuts and bolts’ of the internet – called the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). Internet companies and large networks use this ‘route map’ - consisting of hundreds of thousands of complex paths through the web - to send information to each other.
When visiting a website, users rely on machines called routers to remember how to navigate trusted routes through the ever-expanding internet.
But older routers are finding it difficult to manage with newer technology – such as smartphones and tablets which have drastically increased the number of people online and the time spent online.
They have imposed a huge volume of extra traffic onto the web, leaving some routers strugglign with lack of memory and processing power. Some machines impose an arbitrary upper limit of 512,000 different routes, a number that experts say is out of date.
The system is similar to the human brain being unable to cope with remembering ‘all the back streets’ on a long car journey, said Dr Joss Wright, a research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute.
In order to deal with the increase in web traffic, routers need to be updated with more memory and processing power. Yet experts said some machines are starting to become badly dated.
Dr Wright told The Daily Telegraph: ‘It’s really a case of the routers being overloaded due to more and more devices and more and more fragmented Internet landscape of lots of little networks.’
James Gill, chief executive of Internet traffic monitoring firm GoSquared, said: ‘This is likely to happen more and more the devices there are and the less the infrastructure is going to be able to cope. This definitely won’t be the last we hear of BGP outages.’
Weekly Internet retail sales averaged £729 million in June – meaning more of these problems could see online retailers losing millions of pounds of trade in the future.
Richard Perks, from the market analysts Mintel, said: ‘Online firms build up their reputations on trust, on delivering a flawless experience to their customers.
‘If such problems become a regular feature, then that is a serious problem both for firms and for the economy in general.’
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