China has suggested a radical change in the way the Internet works for the UN, in a proposal that claims to allow cutting-edge technologies such as holograms and autonomous cars, but which critics say will also drive authoritarianism in the architecture that underpins the web.
Telecommunications Group Huawei, together with state-owned companies China Unicom and China Telecom, and the Country’s Ministry of Industry & Information Technology have jointly proposed a New Standard for Network Technology base, called “New IP”, at the United Nations International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The proposal has raised concerns among western countries, including the United Kingdom, Sweden and the United States, who believe the system would divide the global internet and give state-run Internet service providers granular control over the use of the Internet by citizens.
It has won the support of Russia and potentially of Saudi Arabia, according to Western ITU representatives.
“Below the surface, there is a huge battle going on over what the Internet will look like,” said a British ITU delegate, who asked not to be named.
“You have these two competing visions: one which is very free and open and… Without government intervention… And which is much more controlled and regulated by governments.”
Huawei said parts of the technology for the new network architecture were already under construction, with the help of several states and companies, but would not name the people involved. He also said the elements would be ready for testing in early 2021.
In one Powerpoint presentation And one official standard proposal obtained by the Financial Times, Huawei describes the existing Internet infrastructure that underpins global networks, known as TCP / IP as “unstable” and “largely insufficient” to meet the demands of the digital world by 2030 , including autonomous cars, the ubiquitous Internet of Things and “holo-sense teleportation”.
Instead, the Chinese proposals suggest that ITU take a “long-term view” and “take responsibility for a top-down design of the future network”.
Huawei has stated that New IP is only developed to meet the technical demands of a rapidly changing digital world and that it has not incorporated any kind of control into its design. He said he was leading an ITU group focused on future network technology.
“New IP research and innovation is open to scientists and engineers around the world to participate and contribute,” added a spokesperson.
The ITU is currently headed by Chinese Telecommunications Engineer Houlin Zhao, who was appointed to the post by Chinese MIIT in 2014.
But an article to be published for NATO by Oxford Information Labs, a cybersecurity company, the authors of which are also British delegates to the ITU, warns that new intellectual property will allow “fine checks in the foundations of the network” and that the Chinese approach “will lead to more centralised top-down control of the Internet and potentially even its users, with implications for security and rights of man “.
Standards ratified at ITU, which includes nearly 200 member states, are commonly adopted by developing countries in Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where the Chinese government has agreed to provide infrastructure and technology monitoring as part of its “Belt & Road Initiative” to experts.
Huawei and other co-developers plan to push the standardisation of New IP at a major ITU telecommunication conference in India in November.
How is the New IP Different?
The structure of the Internet was designed half a century ago and functions like a postal system.
To solve the problem of sending information around the world, engineers have broken down messages into small packets that can be transmitted around computers until they reach their destination.
Each packet is stamped with the address (or IP) of the computer it wishes to reach, which collects them all in the correct order when it receives them.
This procedure which takes place at the speed of light is called “Transmission Control Protocol” or TCP. Coupled with the system to identify individual computers, you get TCP / IP.
“You could say that TCP / IP is for the wired world what DNA is for the biological,” wrote John Naughton in “A Brief History of the Future: The Origins of the Internet.”
The new IP is described by Huawei as a “more dynamic IP addressing system,” according to an article shared with the FT. Their engineers describe how the Internet is increasingly dividing into several separate networks, such as private communications networks and those broadcast by satellites.
“Interconnection between these networks is a challenge because of their incompatible addressing mechanisms,” says the document, adding that a more efficient address system is needed for emerging technologies.
A new IP address would provide this, allowing devices on the same network to communicate directly with each other without having to send information over the Internet.
Concerns about the new intellectual property arise from the degree of control that governments or operators could have over IP addresses.
Critics say the new protocol would require the network to have “tracking features” responsible for authenticating and authorising the addition of new addresses to a network, humans on the other end, and information packets sent on the Web.
During its presentation to the ITU, Huawei also clarified that New IP would have described something like a “shutdown command”, where a central point of the network could effectively cut communication to or from a particular address, according to a source who was present.
He described this characteristic as a “fundamental departure” from the current network model which acts as an “agnostic factor that simply moves the boxes”.