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.Mobi's Case For Mobile Domains

Three days after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) posted its proposed sponsored top level domains (sTLDs), Microsoft's director of technology made the case for a mobile TLD separate from .com and .net.

Just shy of midnight Friday evening, Pacific Standard Time, ICANN -- managers of the U.S. root server housing the most popular domain names in the world (.com, .net, .org, to name a few) -- posted 10 applicants for consideration as sTLDs, including .asia, .cat, .jobs, .mail, .mobi, .post, .travel, .xxx and two competing .tel domains

Unlike domains such as .com or .net, the ICANN's new crop of domains would be dictated by the company acting as a registry (or manager) for the domain. Currently, there are three approved sTLDs -- .aero, .coop and .museum, approved in 2000.

One of the domains up for consideration, .mobi, is fielded by an industry consortium of companies with ties to the wireless and mobile world. Led by Nokia , VodaFone and Microsoft, the 10-member coalition is looking for a domain extension catering to mobile devices and the unique problems the medium provides.

Mike Wehrs, Microsoft's director of technology and standards, told internetnews.com a mobile domain will address the role mobile devices will play on the Internet in coming years.

Today, mobile devices merely access the Internet; tomorrow, they're going to be devices that act as Web servers and other repositories of Internet documents, he said. The way the domain name server (DNS) architecture works for domains like .com and .net are particularly unsuited for mobile devices, he said, since it takes up to 48 hours for IP address changes to propagate on the Internet.

"Within the (.mobi) domain, because we know that mobile devices are going to be changing their IP address on a very regular basis -- every time you turn them off, go through a tunnel or lose connectivity for one or two minutes -- you need almost real-time updates of IP addresses, and that's just something that current domains don't account for, because they've never had to deal with devices that move at that rate," he said.

Not everyone agrees with that assessment, however, and thinks the .mobi TLD won't pass muster through ICANN's application process. Tom Barrett is founder of the PW Registry Corp., a registry for the country code TLD (ccTLD) .pw, an island nation in the North Pacific Ocean. Barrett is marketing the domain as the central repository for social networking, and was approved by ICANN earlier this year.

Just finishing the ICANN process himself, he knows officials will look closely at every application to see whether they bring anything new to the table that the current domains don't already address. A new protocol for mobile device communications transfers, say Wireless Access Protocol, as opposed to Hyper Text Transfer Protocol (HTTP) or File Transfer Protocol (FTP), likely wouldn't warrant a new domain by ICANN standards, he said.

"You could just as easily say that wap.yahoo.com is the protocol for a mobile device to view that Web site," Barrett told internetnews.com. "So to take that approach for how protocols are handled and say, 'well, we need a new extension to represent the mobile protocols' doesn't quite make a lot of sense."

Barrett added the consortium would need to adapt their business plan to accommodate any suggestions brought forth in the ICANN application process. Nokia and Microsoft officials will get their first taste of public sentiment for the .mobi extension next month, when public comments will be accepted by ICANN staffers for the 10 applicants.

Nokia is keen on getting support for a mobile domain name; their application was denied when the first crop of sponsored domains was approved back in 2000. Nokia spokesperson Riitta Mard said ICANN didn't accept their application then because their application didn't have an industry coalition behind it, prompting Nokia to form the mobile TLD consortium that exists today.

Wehrs said the consortium has is taking a forward-looking approach to its .mobi domain application. Getting the domain to support today's new applications isn't nearly as important as providing a solid infrastructure for tomorrow's new technology.

"We want to make sure what we're putting in place here has the upward mobility to leverage people's really cool thoughts going forward and to be hostable in this new domain," he said. "We're not proposing any new versions of the Internet or anything, what we're trying to do is say there is some technologies that mobile brings like the IP address propagation."

Also online for .mobi is streaming support and a mandate that any person hosting a domain on the .mobi TLD be IPv6 compatible, a technology that opens up the IP address space considerably and brings new functionality to Internet communications. IPv4 would be used in the new mobile space, but only for the most basic uses, he said.

"People who want to deliver higher-end, higher-value applications will be using the IPv6 infrastructure more and more, so IPv4 will become eclipsed, except for potentially very rudimentary applications," Wehrs said.