Should How the Internet Works Change? TCP/IP and New IP

Updated: Mar 29

Policy Brief by Georgia Evans.

What is Internet Protocol (IP)?


The Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) are the standards that allow computers to connect and communicate with one another. IP is the address system that delivers packets—broken-up pieces of data—from one device to another and ensures that the data goes to the right place [1]. TCP works to reassemble these packets when they have reached the right computer [2]. The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical system of databases that correlates human-readable domain names to their numerical IP addresses [3]. For example, when you come to check out articles by KPR, you would type kroegerpolicyreview.com into your browser, and the DNS would correlate this to its numerical IP address: 35.184.133.11.


These standards are open by nature so that all networks are connected and interoperable. Everyone, and no one, has control over the Internet. It is run by non-profit organizations, such as the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) that work to keep the Internet running smoothly and meeting the needs of everyone. ICANN coordinates the DNS and the supply of IP addresses to help maintain the secure, stable, interoperability of the Internet [4]. The IETF is an international body that develops open Internet standards [5]. Changes to protocols, such as additional layers of security, are created through the IETF to keep the Internet decentralized, resilient, and stable.


Is TCP/IP Good Enough for 21st Century Technologies?


The Internet is a vital component of society in the 21st century. There are 3.97 billion users worldwide [6], a feat that the scalability of TCP/IP has helped accomplish. The Internet today is not what it was in the 1980s and 1990s. 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, autonomous vehicles, and other future technologies yet to develop have probed a serious debate about whether TCP/IP is still the best to use. At the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) in June 2020, Vint Cerf, a designer of the TCP/IP protocols and chief Internet evangelist at Google, stated that he would not want to be in an autonomous vehicle that used IP [7]. However, he also argued that TCP/IP passed the biggest stress-test of the Internet’s capacity during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when the whole world moved online simultaneously [8].


During EuroDIG’s Dynamic Coalition session, there was a general agreement among panelists that while TCP/IP could be augmented or even replaced, there was one proposal that was not the way to improve the function of the network of networks [9]. This proposal is the New IP, unveiled at the 2019 International Telecommunications Union (ITU) meeting by members of the ITU’s Network 2030 Focus Group: Huawei, China Mobile Communications Corporation, China Unicom, and the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The New IP is meant to improve the functionality and security of the Internet by reinventing its infrastructure.


What is the New Internet Protocol (New IP)?


Huawei has characterized New IP as a “technology study initiative, driven by a vision on scenarios for utilizing Internet technologies in many facets of the future digital industry and society,”[10]. Huawei’s proposal argues that the Internet’s fragmentation and the proliferation of the IoT make interconnectivity difficult [11]. TCP/IP struggles to connect physical objects that are not bound to specific locations, thus requiring more flexible addressing for communications [12]. They also argue that “security and trust” need to be improved for the long-term environment [13].


Holographic type communication, cloud driving, and industrial IoT are some of the use cases that were discussed by Huawei in their September 2019 ITU presentation [14]. While the current protocols foster a decentralized, bottom-up Internet, the New IP has a top down design [15]. It includes semantic addressing to improve content delivery for a growing number of internet services, flexible length addressing for specialized network deployments in industrial settings, and support for fragmented networks [16]. It is meant to incorporate deterministic services to improve speed and reduce packet loss, privacy and security by design, high throughput, and endpoint-definable forwarding operations that will improve service experience [17]. These components are meant to address the speed and quality problems associated with the current TCP/IP.


Criticisms of New IP


Despite its attractive features, the Internet governance community has largely rejected the New IP. While the debate about whether TCP/IP should be changed remains, replacing the current Internet model with a Chinese invention is an overwhelming no-go. There is not a global desire to implement the Chinese Internet model of surveillance and censorship into the technical infrastructure of the Internet and future networks; the Internet governance community has largely recognized that the New IP is an attempt at more Chinese control of the network of networks. Marco Hogewoning, the head of policy at RIPE NCC, a regional Internet registry that allocates IP addresses, states that the New IP is “not about a real need for new technology, but about trying to alter the governance structure of the Internet - one of the most fundamental aspects of this hugely important technology that has made it the success it is today,” [18].


The criticism that the New IP is a means to gain more control is reflected by the international body through which it was developed. Internet standards are made at the IETF, the technical multi-stakeholder body, rather than the ITU—which is a multilateral UN agency susceptible to political influence [19]. While there are issues with TCP/IP and emerging technologies, these issues can be ironed out at the IETF [20]. Furthermore, it would be incredibly costly to replace the current systems in use [21].


The top-down design of the New IP contradicts the decentralization fostered by TCP/IP that places the end-user in control. The openness of the Internet has fostered “permissionless innovation,” which is what has enabled its exponential growth since the 1990s. The bottom-up governance model has ensured that the Internet works for everyone; a top-down design would only centralize control [22]. There is a concern that if China moves ahead with the implementation of the New IP, the Internet will become more fragmented, less open and less stable [23].

  1. ICANN, “Beginner’s Guide to Internet Protocol (IP) Addresses,” Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, 2011, https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/ip-addresses-beginners-guide 04mar11-en.pdf

  2. Cloudflare, “What is TCP/IP?” Cloudflare, Date Accessed February 05, 2021, https://www.cloudflare.com/learning/ddos/glossary/tcp-ip/

  3. ICANN, “What Does ICANN Do?” Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, Date. Accessed February 04, 2021, https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/what-2012-02-25-en

  4. Ibid.

  5. IETF, “About,” Internet Engineering Task Force, Date Accessed February 04, 2021, https://www.ietf.org/about/

  6. J. Clement, “Internet usage worldwide - statistics & facts,” Statista, October 26, 2020, https://www.statista.com/topics/1145/internet-usage-worldwide/#dossierSummary

  7. Olivier MJ Crépin-Leblond et al., “IoT and Core Internet values Dynamic Coalition – Internet successes and failures to support a world living under COVID19 lockdown,” June 10, 2020, EuroDIG Conference Recording, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEmlf4n2LJk&feature=youtu.be

  8. Ibid.

  9. Ibid.

  10. Huawei, “A Brief introduction about New IP Research Initiative,” Huawei, Date Accessed February 06 2021, https://www.huawei.com/ca/industry-insights/innovation/new-ip

  11. Huawei, “NEW IP Framework and Protocol for Future Applications,” University College London, N.D., http://prod-upp-image-read.ft.com/6f569c60-7045-11ea-89df-41bea055720b

  12. Ibid.

  13. Huawei Technologies C. Ltd., China Mobile Communications Corporation, China Unicom, Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, “TSAG-C83: New IP, Shaping Future Network” International Telecommunication Union, September 23-27, 2019, http://prod-upp-image-read.ft.com/ec34d7aa-70e6- 11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca

  14. Huawei, “Network 2030 and the Future of IP,” Presentation, Geneva, September 2019, http://prod-upp image-read.ft.com/eff4a82a-70e6-11ea-95fe-fcd274e920ca

  15. Ibid.

  16. Huawei, “A Brief introduction about New IP Research Initiative,” Huawei, Date Accessed February 06 2021, https://www.huawei.com/ca/industry-insights/innovation/new-ip

  17. Ibid.

  18. Marco Hogewoning, “Do We Need a New IP?” RIPE NCC, April 22, 2020, https://labs.ripe.net/Members/marco_hogewoning/do-we-need-a-newip#:~:text=likes%2C%200%20dislikes-,A%20number%20of%20recent%20publications%20have%20addressed%20Huawei's%20proposal%20fo r,we%20want%20to%20explain%20why.

  19. Alyssa Cooper, “Liaison statement,” IETF, March 30, 2020, https://datatracker.ietf.org/liaison/1677/

  20. Marco Hogewoning, “Do We Need a New IP?” RIPE NCC, April 22, 2020, https://labs.ripe.net/Members/marco_hogewoning/do-we-need-a-newip#:~:text=likes%2C%200%20dislikes-,A%20number%20of%20recent%20publications%20have%20addressed%20Huawei's%20proposal%20fo r,we%20want%20to%20explain%20why.

  21. Hascall Sharp and Olaf Kolkman, “Discussion Paper: An analysis of the “New IP” proposal to the ITU T,” Internet Society, April 24, 2020, https://www.internetsociety.org/resources/doc/2020/discussion-paper an-analysis-of-the-new-ip-proposal-to-the-itu-t/

  22. Caleb Chen, “China’s “New IP” proposal to replace TCP/IP has a built in “shut up command” for censorship,” Privacy News Online, April 03, 2020, https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/blog/chinas new-ip-proposal-to-replace-tcp-ip-has-a-built-in-shut-up-command-for-censorship

  23. Ibid.