27 September 2023

New ideas: How China and Huawei want to rebuild the internet

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Casey Tonkin* says Huawei’s proposal for a new address system highlights a growing split in the ideologies behind internet development.

A team of computer scientists from Huawei has presented what it calls a “New IP” to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in the hopes it will help form the standard of next generation communications.

Documents obtained by the Financial Times outline a problem that the researchers see with the internet as it stands today having been “slowly fragmented into many networks”.

Because original IP addresses were “originally designed to identify physical objects being bound to specific locations”, the team from Huawei says that traditional IP is no longer sufficient for future high-bandwidth technologies found in the further integration of Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

The research into a New IP has been conducted as part of the ITU’s focus group on technologies for Network 2030.

A slideshow presentation from the Huawei group includes holograms as a tangible future technology that will require extremely high-speed (terabit) data transfers with submillisecond latency to properly function.

New IP would add the high level of network efficiency needed to power hologram technology over the internet because it assigns source and addresses that are multi-semantic and variable in length — as opposed to fixed IPv4 or IPv6 addresses.

This dynamic address system would allow for devices on the same network to communicate with each other without having to go through the internet.

It would also mean clients can ping servers directly without querying the DNS, thereby removing some of the delay embedded in the current TCP/IP system.

Power to the people

New IP’s aggregation of the many networks that its proponents see as a problematic feature of current architecture is seen by some as a way of removing the democratising aspects of the internet.

Chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force, Alissa Cooper said New IP is a “top-down” architecture that flies in the face of how the internet was originally designed.

“The way that the internet has developed is through building blocks that are modular and loosely coupled, that’s the brilliance of it,” Cooper said.

She called New IP a “kind of monolithic, top-down architecture that wants to tightly couple the applications to the network”.

“This is exactly what the internet was designed not to be,” Cooper said.

An unnamed UK delegate to the ITU told the Financial Times that the New IP highlighted a growing split in the ideologies behind internet development and regulation.

“Below the surface, there is a huge battle going on over what the internet will look like,” said the delegate, who asked not to be named.

“You’ve got these two competing visions: one which is very free and open and government hands-off, and one which is much more controlled and regulated by governments.”

* Casey Tonkin is a journalist at Information Age, the official publication of the Australian Computer Society.

This article first appeared at www.ia.acs.org.au.

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