The board members of the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) decided on Thursday (1 December) not to renew the mandate of the IPv6 advanced innovations working group.
The working group, set up in January 2021, has been at the center of political controversy.
It was designed to identify advanced IPv6 use cases and outline new business cases for emerging technologies. IPv6 is the latest version of the Internet protocol, which has enabled an increasing number of devices to connect to the World Wide Web.
However, so-called “enhanced” IPv6, also known as IPv6+, has a rather different connotation as it is not an established standard but a proposed extension of the latest Internet protocol with some significantly different characteristics.
The idea of an enhanced Internet protocol comes from the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei. Critics of the proposal saw it as a continuation of the New IP proposal, a research program also led by Huawei that looked into communication requirements for emerging technologies.
While technically different, the two proposals have commonalities in that they would put in place a more centralized management system, which could allow Internet service providers to identify and block specific Internet traffic.
However, since IPv6+ was first proposed, major players in the industry are appreciative CISCO And Nokia have collected some of its main features, such as segment routing, an architecture to optimize traffic distribution at a central level.
Similarly, the ETSI working group has become “its own beast”, following a steady increase in participation, reaching over 100 members.
According to a source familiar with the matter, supporting companies such as CISCO saw the potential benefits of more centralized traffic management and felt they could control the potential drawbacks of IPv6+. CISCO did not respond to EURACTIV’s request for comment by publication.
The body worked on developing a roadmap of features that would only become part of the official protocol once they were approved by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). This is because, from the outset, the working group had its wings clipped because its mandate did not include the development of any standards but only the production of reports.
However, for its opponents, this activity is also dangerous because it legitimizes a dangerous concept. The mandate of the working group would of course have expired at the end of the year, but the chairman asked ETSI for an extension.
The request met stiff opposition at the ETSI board meeting, prompting Secretary General Luis Jorge Romero, formally in charge of the decision, to acknowledge that the working group could not move forward.
According to two sources familiar with the matter, the European Commission has played a decisive role in coordinating opposition to the proposed extension, mobilizing a united front with France, Germany, the United Kingdom and a large part of industry.
“There is no justification for continuing this discussion in ETSI, which should focus on defining technical standards. This would otherwise risk becoming political,” one of the sources said.
The fact that the Commission has decided to step up its lead against the proposal is due to the wider geopolitical landscape surrounding internet governance.
In June, EURACTIV reports it that the Chinese government circulated a resolution before the development conference of the United Nations’ telecommunications agency, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), which included a definition of IPv6+.
Officially, Beijing intended to create a shared understanding of the use of the acronym, including by offering countries lagging behind in implementing the new protocol to fund the rollout of IPv6+.
Instead, Western stakeholders saw it as a move to legitimize the concept, introducing it for the first time in an official standardization body document, and an attempt to further control the digital infrastructure of developing countries.
China’s strategy in international fora has long been to present itself as the champion of the global south, in this case even going so far as to offer to pay for IPv6+ implementation. This view is well outlined in a recent White paper about building a community with a shared future in cyberspace.
The Chinese view is that the Internet should be divided into national spheres, loosely interconnected with each other and each under the “cyber sovereignty” and rules of a country where foreign powers would have no right to interfere.
This view is consistent with the “Great Firewall” which prevents Chinese Internet users from accessing most of the global Internet, but which can only become fully effective if there is no global Internet and what Beijing calls US “cyber hegemony” is over.
The Chinese argument that internet governance is lopsided is not without resonance as stakeholder-run bodies like the IETF see Western corporations with their deepest pockets having the upper hand.
That is why proposals such as the new IP and IPv6+ have been made within the ITU, a body in which national governments have a decisive weight. However, China’s exploitation of the ITU suffered a significant setback in September when American Bogdan-Martin was successfully elected to head the UN agency against a Russian candidate.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]