Three challenges facing the Internet in 2021

Three challenges facing the Internet in 2021
(Image credit: Shutterstock / carlos castilla)

Last year, the Internet faced its biggest test yet. We learned that the Internet performs incredibly well under pressure. The infrastructure behind it has proven its scalability and resilience, as it has become more essential than ever before for our daily lives.

However, there are still challenges ahead which the Internet community must tackle if we are to keep the Internet’s infrastructure strong. Ensuring global Internet access, managing its sustainable growth, and protecting users from cybersecurity threats are all important issues for the Internet community to navigate. So, what is likely to test the Internet next? And how can we overcome these challenges?

Who governs the satellite Internet?

The pandemic has clearly shown the global need for Internet connectivity. Companies like Starlink, Oneweb and Amazon are moving at a breakneck pace in a space race, not to reach the moon, but to connect the unconnected parts of the world. Each company is working to build and deploy “Internet satellites” which will bring affordable high-speed Internet services to businesses, governments, schools, and individuals around the world particularly to areas of the world where fiber won’t reach and traditional mobile systems like 4G and 5G might be too expensive to deploy.

However, it’s important to remember that while satellite systems are above the earth, they are not above the law. At last year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF), many discussed the hope that these systems will enable greater freedom. While improved access to information and communication is certainly positive, questions around content regulation, hate speech and illegal or harmful materials are coming to the fore. Specifically, since satellite systems exist in an entirely different dimension there is still uncertainty over which laws apply and which regulatory bodies can (and or should have a mandate) to enforce them.

Over a thousand of these satellites are already in orbit as part of these growing networks, with hundreds more slated to launch this year. Amid many technical and business challenges, we need to think about how policies can match the changing nature of the industry.

Calling Internet service providers (ISPs) to deploy IPv6

Since the run-out of IPv4 addresses at the end of 2019, there have been several calls to action for organizations to deploy the current version of the Internet Protocol, IPv6. The IPv4 protocol was designed for a world long before everyone had a computer in their home, a smartphone in their pocket, and an IoT device in every room. Today, there is simply not enough IPv4 address space to accommodate the growing number of connections. Despite most organizations being aware that the new protocol will benefit the future growth and connectivity of the Internet, many still haven’t made the leap to enable IPv6 in their networks.

Instead, the IPv4 transfer market is booming with companies purchasing used addresses to accommodate network growth. As the price of scarce IPv4 addresses is subject to supply and demand, the market is unpredictable and the continued use of IPv4 addresses is becoming an increasingly costly affair. Currently sold between $25-$30 each, IPv4 addresses are an expense that ISPs will find hard to ignore over time – especially if they need a lot of addresses to grow. Transfers are certainly only a short-term solution before ISPs are eventually priced out and the move to IPv6 becomes inevitable.

Rather than waiting to be priced out, ISPs should start planning their IPv6 deployment now. After all, it will set them up for future growth and improved Internet connectivity.

Solving IoT security woes

Last year, we saw some great advances in IoT, with many innovative uses of technology. The global pandemic also spurred people to be creative, for instance, to monitor how busy our streets get or where people are on the move. However, as the number of IoT devices in the market grows, the number of end points that can be targeted or used to attack others is also increasing rapidly. Manufacturers are being forced to wake up to the fact that they are part of the Internet family now, and this comes with certain responsibilities.

To overcome these threats, government regulation will come into force to control the quality of IoT products bought to market. New privacy regulations, like the EU’s ePrivacy Regulation, will require manufacturers invest more time and money in securing products, not only at time of sale but for the entirety of a product’s lifetime.

IoT is an exciting sector given its huge potential to change the way we connect, work and play. But the tech industry and consumers must get to grips with new safety and security standards as government regulatory discussions focus on ensuring that IoT remains safe to use.

We don’t expect to see any quick or simple solutions to the multiple challenges facing the Internet. However, the Internet community has a vital role to play in the years to come. Establishing how to govern the satellite broadband industry, supporting the Internet’s sustainable growth and ensuring the safety and security of IoT devices, will be critical. After all, the Internet has become an even more crucial link for all to connect to those they love and the things they need.

  • Marco Hogewoning, Manager of Public Policy & Internet Governance at the RIPE NCC.
Marco Hogewoning

Marco Hogewoning is a Senior External Relations Officer at the RIPE NCC, leading the RIPE NCC's engagement with the RIPE community, government, law enforcement and other Internet stakeholders.

His misson is to explain the Internet to people. Tell them how it works, show the wonderful possibilities it offers, but also what is impossible to achieve. All in an attempt to make it better, faster, bigger, stronger, while making sure the Internet keeps doing what it was designed for: to share knowledge and information.