The original story has been updated to include Huawei’s point of view.
The Chinese government has made another attempt to promote its internet browsing in a repackaging to attract lagging regions.
Over the years, China has made several attempts to change the existing internet architecture, mainly in the context of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations ICT technology agency.
Unlike other standardization organizations dominated by private companies, governments play a leading role in ITU. Beijing is thus using the forum to engage countries with similar interests in its bid for stronger government control over the internet.
In September 2019, a representative of the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei presented a proposal for a new IP (Internet Protocol). In February, EURACTIV expected more proposals in the context of the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly.
A changing approach
Beijing’s new proposal was to replace a resolution to be adopted at the World Telecommunication Development Conference, the ITU’s June 6-16 conference dedicated to telecommunications development in Rwanda.
Two weeks ago, the Chinese government released a modification of the resolution that introduced the concept of IPv6+, an improved version of the latest version of the internet protocol known as IPv6.
Around the same time, IPv6+ was promoted by Huawei. For the telecom company, which was not involved in the resolution, the Chinese government’s intention was simply to fully define and agree on the acronym to avoid misunderstanding.
“IPv6+ can enable more open and proactive technology and service innovation, more efficient and flexible network and service provisioning, and better performance and user experience,” the note said.
According to the document seen by EURACTIV, IPv6+ will have three important advantages. More efficient distribution of information in the network; integration of other technologies that allow organization of network resources; integration of innovative solutions.
New brand, same problems
“IPv6+ and the new IP are the same song, different verses,” Mehwish Ansari, head of digital at the human rights group ARTICLE 19, told EURACTIV. He added that the two proposals have similar features that could have serious implications for privacy and censorship.
For Ansari, Huawei changed its approach in 2019 after a strong push to try to rethink its internet architecture. While still offering most of the hallmarks of the original new IP offering, the initiative has been repackaged to make it look like a natural extension. IPv6 instead of a completely new architecture.
In contrast, for Huawei, these two initiatives are completely unrelated and it is not true to talk about rebranding, because IPv6+ generalizes technologies developed by the entire industry, such as segment routing from Cisco and Nokia.
“The new IP was a research program looking at communication requirements in 2030 and beyond, taking into account a greenfield scenario. On the other hand, IPv6+ is a shorter-term focused extension of IPv6 and defines the roadmap of features developed by the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force),” a Huawei spokesperson told EURACTIV.
Targeting backward regions
According to ARTICLE 19’s Ansari, bringing this rebranding to the World Telecommunication Development Conference is a smart strategy because it addresses the concerns of regions in the Global South, which are still far behind in IPv6 adoption.
As a result, countries may agree to Huawei’s rebranding strategy and implement more infrastructure projects, such as those funded by China in the context of the Belt and Road initiative.
“The strategy is unlikely to work,” said Mallory Knodel, Chief Technology Officer at the Center for Democracy and Technology. He explained that the transition to IPv6 was initiated to increase the number of devices that could connect to the Internet, and while the number of connected devices in each region increased, it was exhausted only in advanced countries with dense populations. Gap in IPv4 – ordering protocol.
For Knodel, China’s proposal is misleading “marketing language” because IPv6+ is a corporate product, not a technical standard like IPv6.
He emphasized that the attempt to legitimize IPv6+ as a technical standard is shown to the IPv6 advanced innovation working group of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) with Huawei’s IPv6+ connection.
According to a source familiar with the matter, the task force was created in October 2020 with a very limited mandate and is now an empty shell used to provide a date behind the proposal.
In contrast, the Huawei ETSI working group complements the work of the IETF and brings together more than 90 companies.
Splinternet is not the problem
Another point that IPv6+ is meant to address is the issue of compatibility, as the original new IP proposal is incompatible with the existing architecture and raises fears of internet fragmentation.
Knodel noted that the concern with IPv6+ could be the opposite. If these new versions are compatible with older protocols, they can apply additional information to all traffic, including granular access information.
Net neutrality and fair share
According to CDT’s Knodel, the Chinese proposal will help European telcos offer “fair share,” or “sender pays” as it’s known in the US, because it allows for more information about Internet traffic.
However, European telecommunications operators reject such a union, arguing that the traffic from the main platforms is already known.
Moreover, the European Commission’s communications director, Rita Wesenbeck, recently stated that measures against treaty agreements do not contradict the principle of net neutrality.
“The Internet should be managed through an open, decentralized and multilateral model. European telecommunications companies oppose the improved IPv6 proposal,” said Maarit Palovirta, director general of regulatory affairs at the Association of European Telecommunications Network Operators.
According to several sources, the Chinese proposal caught Western players off guard as it was sent relatively late before the conference, which was seen as a “strategy” to avoid a coordinated Western response.
One of the sources told EURACTIV that the European Commission informed the European representatives before the ITU conference.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]