The vaunted Next Generation Internet may have come a step closer with the announcement that the US Department of Defense (DoD) is to adopt the IPv6 protocol in its networks.

Experts envisage a transition period where Internet devices understand both IPv4 and IPv6, and this is the approach the Pentagon has taken. US chief information officer John Stenbit says all network equipment bought by the DoD from October 2003 must support both IPv4 and IPv6.

He says IPv6 will become the DoD's standard protocol by about 2008.

Because so many large companies and research bodies work with the Department of Defense, the decision to move to IPv6 is likely to be followed by many other organizations.

Among IPv6's advantages are a much-larger address space — the number of devices that can be connected to the network — and better security. Both are of interest to the DoD, which has a program called Global Information Grid that seeks to link sensors, weapons, platforms, information and people.

Or, in modern military-speak: "Enterprise-wide deployment of IPv6 will keep the warfighter secure and connected in a fast-moving battlespace," Stenbit says.