The strange case of China's IPv9

04 Feb 2008
00:00
News
Commentary

China's mysterious "IPv9", which created a global controversy in the internet community four years ago, has resurfaced, now badged as a "decimal network" project under the MII.

Back in July 2004, reports of a Chinese IPv9 prompted a bewildered reaction from internet godfather Vint Cerf. 'What could this possibly be about‾ As far as I know, IANA [Internet Assigned Numbers Authority] has not allocated the IPv9 designation to anyone. IPv9 is not an Internet standard. Could you please explain what is intended here‾" he wrote in an email to China's internet leaders.

The idea was dismissed as a "rogue" project with no official backing. But it is back on the table led, now as then by Xie Jianping, the head of the Shanghai Universal Institute of Chemical Technology and more recently in charge of the decimal network standards team in the MII's science and technology department.

The project returned to prominence at a press conference at the unusual location of the Party Central School in Beijing two weeks ago, where Xie announced that the networking technology had been successfully tested by China Netcom and the Ministry of Commerce.

He asserted that the project is all about China wresting control of its own IP networks away from US dominance for which, he claimed, China was paying 500 billion yuan a year.

The system reportedly uses numerical addressing to make China "the only country able to unify domain names, IP addresses and MAC addresses" into a single, metric system, according to Xinhua. Without any explanation, Xinhua said it also made China the only country outside the US "to have root servers and IP address hardware connectivity servers and its own domain name, IP address and MAC address resources".

In an interview with a skeptical Sina reporter, Xie and denied the project was another Hanxin - a reference to a fraudulent state-backed chip project.

"Our IPv9 has gone through testing and assessment," he said adding that he could not give any more detail but would "make public some material at the necessary time."

But the system, or what little is known of it, has plenty of doubters at home. Sina said critics of the system complain that turning domain names and brand names into numerals is a "backwards step" for the net.

The fact that the decimal network appears to asset control over root servers is bound to alarm internet governance bodies around the world.

And whatever else might be said about it, the project is clearly backed by the MII. "IPv9" raises more questions than answers. We won't hold our breath waiting for an explanation.

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