Chinese telecom companies and the Middle Kingdom government contend that the TCP/IP protocol stack is ill-suited for future networking needs and have proposed reworking the internet's technical architecture with new, more secure internet protocols.
Huawei, China Mobile, China Unicom, and China Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) are backing a plan titled "New IP, Shaping Future Network."
The specifics have not been made public but Huawei – currently subject to US trade sanctions for allegedly engaging in activities contrary to national security interests – has described the goals of the initiative as an attempt to improve the flexibility, privacy, and security of the internet.
The New IP proposal has been characterized as an attempt to impose authoritarian, top-down control on the unruly internet with features like a "shut-off" mechanism to stop denial of service attacks.
Huawei insists New IP isn't about centralized control or imposing a governance model – which is to say politics – but rather is just about technology, as if technology could be separated from politics.
The proposal was presented in September 2019 and February 2020 at meetings of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a United Nations body that coordinates the shared use of the radio spectrum, and is currently available only to ITU members.
The Internet Society, a non-profit standards group, in April summarized the proposal's major points of focus. These include:
- Supporting heterogeneous networks better.
- Supporting deterministic forwarding (e.g. network priority for real-time data)
- Enhancing security and trust
- Supporting ultra-high throughput
The China-backed plan is likely to be discussed further at the ITU's World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly in Hyderabad, India in November.
The European Commission is currently considering how it should weigh in on various topics at the ITU meeting including the New IP proposal.
Commissioner Thierry Breton last month said the EC intends to defend "the vision of a single, open, neutral, free and unfragmented internet, supporting permissionless innovation, privacy and users’ empowerment, as well as the protection of all fundamental rights online or offline."
In a mailing post in March, Alissa Cooper, a Fellow at Cisco Systems and Chair of the Internet Engineering Task Force, argued that the current TCP/IP protocol stack is flexible enough to meet anticipated needs and that the New IP proposal makes unsupported and incorrect claims.
"[W]e believe the creation of a top-down design effort to replace the existing IP protocol stack wholesale would be harmful," said Cooper. "Doing so would most assuredly create network islands, damage interconnection, and jeopardize interoperability. A top-down approach would fail to match the diverse needs of the continuously evolving application ecosystem."
Beyond that, it's not clear how US organizations can interact with Huawei in the context of standards setting. Huawei's presence on the US Commerce Department's Entity List has called into question whether American companies can participate in standards organizations alongside Huawei. As noted by Ari Schwartz in Lawfare last month, the Commerce Department hasn't clarified the situation.
The New IP proposal appears to face an uphill battle in the current political climate. But given that many of these discussions are happening behind closed doors, it's difficult to predict how things will turn out. ®