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Vol-2 Propelling the DNS industry in Africa: A reflection

Vol 2 propelling dns industry africa 750x563 02sep15 en

A recent blog by Alexa Raad has shed some light on current trends in the domain name industry. She points out that the Domain Name System (DNS) market is generally divided into three major segments, which experience distinct challenges. These three segments are:

  1. "Legacy" generic TLDs (.com, .net, .org, .biz, .info, etc.)
  2. Country code TLDs
  3. New gTLDs.

The legacy gTLDs have the luxury of being the long-established incumbents, but most overcome issues of scale, reach, stability and management. They have been primarily consolidated under the control of Verisign, Neustar and Afilias — all of which are for-profit companies.

In contrast, the ccTLD segment is incredibly fragmented. Although many are also long-established incumbents, each ccTLD is mostly a stand-alone entity focused on administering their country's namespace. Most ccTLDs have some form of public benefit mandate, and many operate as non-profits.

Lastly, there is the new gTLD segment, which is being managed by an eclectic collection of incumbents, new entrants, ccTLDs and entrepreneurs.

In Africa, we're seeing firsthand how the presence of these three distinct categories is affecting the region's DNS marketplace.

African ccTLDs are mainly for the public's benefit, and have historically been run by universities or research centers. However, we've seen a rise in regional ccTLD management by both national information systems agencies and telecommunications regulators. While not as common, a few African ccTLDs are privately run. And in some instances, ccTLDs are being operated from outside Africa due to many factors such as legacy, pending re-delegation processes and sometimes, lack of clear consensus at national level..

As for the 'new' generation of domain names (new gTLDs), we are still working to determine how the marketplace has responded to their introduction, and how they have been used not only in Africa, but also in regions all around the globe. Of the more than a thousand new domain names to be introduced into the root of the DNS, it is likely that only 10 new TLDs will come from African applicants, including .Durban; .Capetown; .Johannesburg and .Africa. The continent's domain name consumption continues to be low, but has seen some growth over the past three years, from 700,000 registrations to more than 1,300,000 today. Clearly, there is room for improvement.

With that in mind, what can we do to strengthen the African DNS industry? What steps need to be taken? What can African ccTLDs managers do to help?

The following is a set of proposed guidelines as to what should be done, either from the ccTLD's side or the registrar's:

  1. Understanding the scope of both the global and the regional domain name market

    At times, many ccTLDs lack a basic understanding of a registry manager's objectives and goals. Not only that, but they also fail to see the wider perspectives related to the global DNS industry. A more thorough understanding of the goals and needs of all players in the industry will help develop a more efficient African DNS market.

  2. Performance measurement

    African ccTLDs and registrars need to set up efficient and thorough performance measurement tools to facilitate data collection and mining. Doing so will provide a means for enhanced market studies and forward planning. The consensus in the community is that we hardly hear about statistics, such as overall size, renewal rates, growth metrics and seasonality. Often missing are comparative metrics or content metrics that help management understand how their name space is being used or where potential vulnerabilities may lie.

  3. Cost

    Cost varies from one registry to the other with no formal explanation or justification, leading to generally high pricing across the board. Acquisition of gTLDs seems far easier and at a lower cost than national ccTLDs, as per registrants' beliefs. There is a need for a benchmark, to provide and compare the variability in cost structures.

  4. Other services.

    Arguably, depending on their categories, African registries may not meet all of their financial needs by selling domain names. It may well be strategic to develop a wider range of expertise, to help open the window of opportunity. Doing so may also allow for collaborative sourcing, shared customer support infrastructure and alternative financial reporting approaches.

The African DNS environment could be far better off if key and decisive actions are taken, such as the ones I've outlined above. ICANN has already started addressing some of the issues in partnership with African ccTLDs and registrars, namely through the DNS forum, the Cairo DNS Entrepreneurship Centre, the DNSSEC roadshows and the ongoing internship programs with global and regional DNS industry leaders. Together, we can strengthen the African DNS industry.


    Domain Name System
    Internationalized Domain Name ,IDN,"IDNs are domain names that include characters used in the local representation of languages that are not written with the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet ""a-z"". An IDN can contain Latin letters with diacritical marks, as required by many European languages, or may consist of characters from non-Latin scripts such as Arabic or Chinese. Many languages also use other types of digits than the European ""0-9"". The basic Latin alphabet together with the European-Arabic digits are, for the purpose of domain names, termed ""ASCII characters"" (ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange). These are also included in the broader range of ""Unicode characters"" that provides the basis for IDNs. The ""hostname rule"" requires that all domain names of the type under consideration here are stored in the DNS using only the ASCII characters listed above, with the one further addition of the hyphen ""-"". The Unicode form of an IDN therefore requires special encoding before it is entered into the DNS. The following terminology is used when distinguishing between these forms: A domain name consists of a series of ""labels"" (separated by ""dots""). The ASCII form of an IDN label is termed an ""A-label"". All operations defined in the DNS protocol use A-labels exclusively. The Unicode form, which a user expects to be displayed, is termed a ""U-label"". The difference may be illustrated with the Hindi word for ""test"" — परीका — appearing here as a U-label would (in the Devanagari script). A special form of ""ASCII compatible encoding"" (abbreviated ACE) is applied to this to produce the corresponding A-label: xn--11b5bs1di. A domain name that only includes ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens is termed an ""LDH label"". Although the definitions of A-labels and LDH-labels overlap, a name consisting exclusively of LDH labels, such as"""" is not an IDN."