The challenges facing the internet in 2021

Marco Hogewoning of RIPE NCC

Our new way of life during the pandemic has undeniably highlighted our dependence on the internet. Behind this essential utility are the networks that power and deliver it to our homes. It’s been an extremely important time for the internet community to consider how we can best support and grow these networks.

We face a number of challenges ahead to manage rapid Internet growth, to keep users (and things) secure, and to ensure everyone can connect to the Internet. So, asks Marco Hogewoningmanager of public policy and internet governance at the RIPE NCC, what issues do we face and how can these be solved?

Running networks over IPv4 is becoming a costly affair

The inevitable need to migrate to the latest Internet protocol, IPv6, has been widely known for some years now. But as our reliance on the Internet increases, we’re reaching a point where we simply need more address space to accommodate the growth in Internet users and IoT devices.

Despite the official run-out of IPv4 addresses at the end of 2019, many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) still haven’t made the leap to deploy IPv6 in their network. Instead, many turned to the IPv4 transfer market, purchasing used addresses to accommodate network growth. But with the price of scarce IPv4 addresses subject to supply and demand, the market is unpredictable.

In 2021, ISPs that continue to rely on IPv4 could find that it becomes an increasingly costly affair. With used IPv4 addresses selling between $25-$30 (€20.61 – €24.73) each, ISPs will find it hard to ignore the impact this cost can have over time especially those that need a lot of addresses to grow. Transfers are a short-term solution at best, before ISPs are eventually priced out and the move to IPv6 becomes inevitable.

ISPs must start investigating how a smart and timely deployment of IPv6 can help reduce their dependence on IPv4. A long-term strategy for IPv6 will save them money, ready them for the future, and enable sustainable growth.

Get set for more IoT regulation

We saw a range of new applications of IoT in the last year, driven by a series of new demands such as the need to monitor crowds. As the growth of the IoT continues, it’s forcing manufacturers to wake up to the fact they are part of the Internet family now and this comes with a responsibility to keep us safe in the digital world.

We can expect to see regulatory proposals that change how IoT products are developed and marketed this year. A stronger emphasis on privacy, such as with the EU’s ePrivacy Regulation, means that more time and money have to be invested in securing products, not only at launch but throughout the expected lifetime of the product.

If regulations are set to come into force, “sell it and then build it” might no longer do. In the IoT space, we have seen many cases of rapid prototyping where the first commercial users double as a test bed for further development. As regulatory discussions start to focus on minimum safety and security standards before a product can enter the market like certification such an approach might no longer be feasible and those tests will need to be done before launching.

Learning how to govern a satellite-based internet 

Last year we saw a massive increase in the number of “internet satellites” like those launched by Starlink, Oneweb and Amazon’s Project Kuiper. As the pandemic has shown, there is a global need for Internet connectivity and many people hope these systems can help “connect the unconnected” and fill the gaps, especially in the developing world, where fibre won’t reach and traditional mobile systems like 4G/5G are not cost-effective.

Satellite systems might be above the earth, but they are not above the law. As we saw in debates at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), many also hope that these systems will bring greater freedoms.

While we cannot argue against the notion that the advancement in access to information and communication that the Internet can bring could be a massive leap forward, the discussions around content regulation, hate speech and illegal and harmful materials will also remain. And satellite systems bring a totally different dimension into the already complex debate of which laws apply where and who is able (and has a mandate) to enforce those rules.

As satellite internet gathers pace, the internet community needs to think about what can be done to make sure services and policies are fit for the dawn of the space age.

The technical community has a difficult job ahead this year to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the Internet. While the issues of IPv4 scarcity and IoT regulation have been a cause for concern for some time, we are now reaching a point where both can no longer be ignored.

Inspiring the right kind of action among ISPs, manufacturers and regulators will be essential. The developments in satellite Internet are likely to open up a range of new opportunities this year, but with it comes a set of unique challenges in what is unchartered territory. Taking the right action will be essential to ensure we best support the Internet and its users, after all it is now seen as a lifeline for so many.

The author is Marco Hogewoning, manager of public policy and internet governance at the RIPE NCC.

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow

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