Why it matters: One reason the Internet remains a good place for freedom of expression and governments have a difficult time censoring and controlling it, is the very language that networks adhere to in order to facilitate communications between them. However, Chinese companies such as Huawei think that we need a new, "more dynamic IP addressing system," one that might also lead to a less open and free Internet.
Huawei, and by extension, China isn't content with the TCP/IP communication protocol that governs how data moves around on the Internet, so in 2019 they issued a proposal for a replacement at an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) meeting.
The new system, dubbed "New IP" represents a radical change to the way Internet works, and the company claims it solves some of the technical issues that make it unsuitable for a hyperconnected world with a swarm of devices and sensors that need to power everything from augmented reality to self-driving cars and all manner of "implicit computing."
New IP would supposedly enable more reliable communications and handle the technical requirements of the fast-growing digital landscape, which is expected to balloon to one trillion Internet-connected devices by 2035. And while that sounds good on paper, there's also a touch of authoritarianism in the proposal, with several fine-grained controls that would lead to centralization, as well as tracking and censorship at the whim of governments.
Huawei believes the current network systems are headed towards a cluster of islands that require their own internal protocols and "translators" for communicating with each other. The company explained in the paper that it seeks to simplify these mechanisms to the point of having devices on the same network communicating directly with each other by using new tracking and authentication features developed for New IP.
However, the ITU -- which is led by Chinese communications engineer Houlin Zhao -- is hardly convinced, and will express its criticisms in detail at the World Telecommunication Standardisation Assembly in India later this year.
Others, such as the IETF have also dismissed the proposal as "harmful" and its premises as factually incorrect. The organization says there's no evidence of the "need for a monolithic 'New IP' designed from the top down." For instance, Huawei's proposal ignores extensive work that has already been done to improve the IP protocol stack for the Internet of Things (as detailed in RFC 8520), as well as QUIC, a new base protocol for HTTP that was developed with the help of Google.
The Internet Society also reviewed "New IP," and found it similarly concerning that Huawei ignored the costs of creating duplicative and overlapping work on addressing issues in the current protocol stack. The company also didn't explain how it plans to solve the potential effects of "New IP" on interoperability with networks using the current protocol system, and the regulatory complications that might arise.
Huawei says New IP should be ready for testing in early 2021, and that its research is open to engineers and organizations around the world if they want to contribute.