IDNs and the Future of the Internet

In the not very distant past, the Internet was special. It was a tool that you subscribed to and got a special set of services and information. Soon, the “special” service will become more like electricity, less visible – taken for granted – and deeply embedded in people’s lives. Three factors have made that possible: ubiquity, miniaturisation, and the dramatic drop in cost of access.

Not so long ago you needed a wire to connect your computer to the Internet. Today, connectivity is everywhere. It used to be that you had to have a full-featured computer to connect. Today, devices the size of a pea are able to access the Internet. In the past, the Internet was a tool available for the privileged who could afford it. Today, for many, the Internet is affordable and omnipresent. The implication for the 3 billion users currently connected to the Internet is that it is always-on, available everywhere and affordable.  As we have seen elsewhere in this report, this has enormous implications for the languages and scripts used on the Internet.

However, it also has implications for the future of the Internet. We are about to witness a revolution in connecting “things” to the Internet rather than people. Instead of connecting single digit billions of individual users, we are starting the process of connecting tens of billions devices. Those devices will help make our homes smarter, our cities more efficient and less expensive and our environment better monitored. The advent of an “Internet of Things” will make information sharing an interwoven part of our daily life making us smarter, safer and more efficient. “Smart agents,” connect to the Internet will be commonplace.

As the Internet evolves to include enormous numbers of collected devices, how will this affect the domain name space? First, the DNS is not likely to disappear as a technology with the advent of the Internet of Things. As new devices and services emerge on the Internet, the single, dominant, global namespace for identifying “things” will remain the DNS. For much of the “Internet of Things” names will not be needed. However, when a namespace is needed, the DNS is the most likely candidate to provide that service. Second, the Internet of Things, unlike earlier technologies, is likely to be global in its roll-out. Both developing and developed economies are likely to take advantage of and profit from its deployment.

As the Internet evolves in this way, it is essential that it be global. Thus the Internet of Things has significant implications for universal acceptance. In particular, the devices and services that need to be named in the Internet of Things must be able to be named in the DNS using IDNs as well as traditional ASCII strings. While we often think of universal acceptance as an issue for older technologies such as browsers or email clients, one of the crucial metrics for success of IDNs will be: can we use IDNs successfully in a future Internet that connects both people and “things?”