China wants to end the IP protocol and proposes to create a new Internet

In six decades of development, implementation and growth, the Internet has witnessed monumental technological transformations, so that the network as we know it today bears little resemblance to its origins. However, one technology has remained almost the same since its creation: the basic operating protocols of the TCP network -Transfer Control Protocol-, together with the IP -Internet Protocol-. Now, even that stability could come to an end if an initiative proposed by China succeeds in imposing it in the coming months.

Why does China want to replace the TCP/IP of the Internet?

 By: Gabriel E. Levy B. –

Led by Huawei, several Chinese companies, along with the Ministry of Industry and Technology of this country, recently presented to the United Nations and the International Telecommunication Union -ITU-[1] a project called New IP, which seeks to replace the current Internet protocol TCP/IP [2] with a much more robust technological solution that allows to support the high demand of traffic that will bring the implementation of 5G and the Internet of Things -IOT-.

The proposal is of such magnitude that it has been defined by the Chinese government itself as “Building a New Internet”[3], since it assures that the current system, designed decades ago, is not prepared to face the great demand for connections and traffic that the world will require in the coming years[4].

The reports presented to the United Nations by the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Technology show how robust and advanced the project is that Huawei and other Chinese companies have been working on at an accelerated pace. They have promised that the full development will be formally presented to the world in November and that it will be operational by 2021, if the current restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic do not delay the project.

What the project aims to solve

The current TCP protocol was designed at its time to avoid network collapse by splitting information into packets and permanently tracking alternate available routes, something that was initially very useful due to the instability of the first modem phone connections and the primitive backbone networks. With the passing of time and the improvement in connectivity technologies, the usefulness of the packet division system no longer revolved around the instability of the connections but around the overwhelming user growth. This, in turn, has led to a permanent improvement of the IP allocation system, which now relies on a new upgrade called IPV6, which is slowly replacing the current IPV4 [5].

Although the TCP/IP protocol is very basic and almost primitive for today, the development thought out at the time by Californian engineers is so dynamic and flexible that it has been able to adapt effectively to the growth of the Internet. However, for Huawei and the Chinese government, the TCP protocol has fulfilled its cycle and is not prepared to face the great demand for connections that are required in the future. Therefore, their initiative seeks a more direct intercommunication between devices through a more flexible, dynamic and fast IP address allocation system.

Huawei has emphatically indicated in various analyses and documents that the current Internet model is as “inefficient” as it is “unstable” and that the world urgently requires a new protocol that guarantees an adequate deployment of the new 5G networks, a field where the Chinese company is ahead of all its global rivals [6].

A proposal with more detractors than allies

A recent article published by The Financial Times [7] assured, as expected, that the proposal does not convince countries like the United States, the United Kingdom and Sweden, since they consider that it would weaken the free and autonomous global communications system that the Internet has managed to guarantee over time, since the model proposed by China grants “more granular control to providers/operators” [8].

The main concern expressed by the United Kingdom and Sweden is that this more “dynamic” protocol would allow data to be sent without intermediaries between devices, so it would require some authentication system whereby permanent data tracking might take place by companies and governments around the world. This could completely end the privacy of individuals on the Internet, something that, although it has been happening increasingly in recent years, is partly counteracted by the current network architecture, which allows for minimum privacy guarantees [9].

For the United States, the implementation of the Chinese project would mean the loss of the leadership over the Internet that it has maintained for more than six decades, which added to the lag in other technological and industrial fields such as 5G, would leave America in a disadvantageous position with respect to China. From this, it can be assumed that the main opponent of this initiative will possibly be the Trump government, which as we have analyzed in many previous articles[10] has undertaken a global crusade against Huawei[11] and the Chinese technology industry in general.

On the other hand, countries like Russia have given their approval to the Chinese idea, and for the specialized Xataka portal, it is very likely that other developing countries, where Huawei has been investing large amounts in infrastructure, will end up approving the project [12]. It should not be forgotten that the espionage scandal that the United States accused Huawei of, with the consequent sanctions and bluster against China, began with the United States accusation that the company was using the systems installed with the sponsorship of the Asian country’s government in several African nations in order to extract information and send it directly to Beijing. While these accusations were never clearly substantiated, it became apparent that, just as the United States has done for decades, China may be using its technological superiority to bolster its political and economic influence.

In conclusion, although the initiative presented by several Chinese companies, with the support of the Chinese government, is relevant and would allow for a much more fluid expansion of the Internet, fears regarding the risk it represents for privacy, added to the geopolitical resistance of the United States, casts doubt on whether this project presented to the ITU and the UN will finally make progress, especially at a time when the world is prioritizing much more urgent issues such as the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Information Sources:

[1] Formal request submitted to the UN and ITU by the Government of China

[2] Document presented by the Government of China to the UN and the ITU with the New IP Project

[3] Presentation supporting the Project presented by the Chinese Government

[4] XATACA article on the project

[5] Wikipedia article on IPV6 protocol

[6] Specialized article from the Xataka Portal

[7] Article published by The Financial Times

[8] Article published by The Financial Times

[9] Specialized article from the Xataka Portal

[10] Andinalink article: 5G sets the agenda for Global Geopolitics

[11] Xataka’s article regarding Trump’s crusade against Hawei

[12] Specialized article from the Xataka Portal

Disclaimer: The published articles correspond to contextual reviews or analyses on digital transformation in the information society, duly supported by reliable and verified academic and/or journalistic sources.  The publications are NOT opinion articles and therefore the information they contain does not necessarily represent Andinalink’s position, nor that of their authors or the entities with which they are formally linked, regarding the topics, persons, entities or organizations mentioned in the text.