Neggers spoke plainly about the pros and cons of the modern Internet in a recent interview. Though it’s hard to imagine a world without the Internet, he said, it was never designed to be the global network it has become.
It’s time for a pragmatic look at the changes needed, Neggers added. “The original ARPAnet and, later, TCP/IP protocols, were not designed for the global network we have today. There are a lot of technical problems in the protocol itself, which are at the very heart of the Internet.”
He gave several examples. First, the Internet has one address space, worldwide. “That makes routing complicated because you have to know how to go from where you are, to any place in the world, in a flat address space,” he explained. “That does not scale.”
Moreover, the Internet lacks security. “The original designers assumed this network would be used by people who could trust each other,” Neggers said. “Today, the Internet is open to anybody. It would be nice to have built-in security features, but there are none.”
Also, he noted, the Internet was not designed to deal with real-time applications like voice and streaming media. “This is the bulk of traffic at the moment and, of course, it creates problems.”
These and other problems are hidden by patchwork. “That creates more insecure situations and every patch is another vulnerability,” Neggers asserted. “There is not much room for new patchwork to solve the problems that were made. Patching should stop. We should work toward a better architecture.”
He doesn’t blame the original developers of the Internet for these deficiencies. “What they developed at the time was marvelous, but they didn’t know that it would grow into a worldwide data infrastructure,” he said. “But, few acknowledge the mistakes that were made,” he added. “If more people would acknowledge it, there would be a better platform to improve it.”
Neggers described the recent shift from IPv4 to IPv6 as a “missed opportunity” to upgrade to a more suitable architecture. “At that point, TCP/IP could have been replaced with something different, something more robust, more future proof. That didn’t happen, and IPv6 was chosen.”
His solution? Global collaboration.
“What is needed is that we agree on a protocol that is scalable, and that we start to experiment as soon as possible,” he said, adding that some experiments are already ongoing.
Neggers noted that in the 80s, when TCP/IP came to the Netherlands, it ran on top of the X.25 network. A similar solution can be put to use, he said. “Any new Internet could run on top of the old Internet, and you could run the old Internet on top of the new one,” Neggers said. “A gradual shift toward something better is possible.”
Neggers insists the issue is not technical. “It’s an organization problem, as in the 80s and 90s,” he said. “The real challenge is to find enough collaboration to create something that will remain open, that will be scalable, and to introduce it in a way that doesn’t affect the existing Internet, which we can’t do without anymore.”
Read this month’s Hall of Fame profile to learn more about Kees Neggers’ role in establishing the first European ISP backbone