More registrars are now licensed to use new technology that enables the use of domain names featuring Asian and European character sets.
Melbourne IT announced earlier this month that it had entered into a licensing arrangement with i-DNS.net International, a company based in Silicon Valley, to use technology that allows registration of domain names in Chinese characters.
The Internationalised Domain Name System (i-DNS) technology was developed under the auspices of the Asia Pacific Networking Group (APNG) at the Internet research development unit of the National University of Singapore for more than two years and test-bedded in Asia.
It opens the Internet up to the non-English-speaking population by allowing domain names to be registered in non-Roman or non-ASCII characters.
To date, the i-DNS technology has been used to provide Asian character sets but European character sets will soon be available.
The technology means that when browser requests featuring a multilingual domain name are sent to an i-DNS-compatible server, the multilingual string is converted to Unicode and fed through a transformation process to produce an ASCII-compatible encoding string.
Because the final domain name is within the ASCII range already allowed under the domain-name system, it is compatible with all standard Internet protocols and existing clients/servers.
Under the announcement earlier this month, Melbourne IT, through its division Internet Names WorldWide, will initially be licensed to use the technology to register names in Chinese. This is expected to be expanded to include registrations in other non-English character-based languages such as Japanese, Arabic, Thai and Tamil.
Although i-DNS.net International has already licensed several registrars to use its technology, these services are all limited to single countries and languages.
Melbourne IT is the first ICANN-accredited registrar to be issued a license, making it the first company to market multilingual domain names globally.
But the head of corporate communications at i-DNS International, Jerry Yap, says licenses are already being negotiated with other ICANN-accredited registrars.
Although he will not identify any of the registrars, he says it will be only a matter of weeks before Melbourne IT faces competition.
He says Melbourne IT's licence is non-exclusive and adds that i-DNS.net believes in healthy competition.
Melbourne IT can also expect competition for the registration of non-English character domain names from registrars using technology developed elsewhere.
However, Yap points out that while other companies are offering a variant of the multilingual domain-names technology, they are all restricted by language or geography.
He says i-DNS is the only technology that is universally resolvable and fully backwards compatible with all Internet standards and protocols, legacy client and server-side software and popular local languages encodings.
INWW general manager Clive Flory says i-DNS is intending to provide for the use of up to 30 key non-Roman-script languages to be used in domain names, but demand will be driven by the market.
He says it is hard to predict the numbers INWW's new service will attract, but adds: "Obviously there are many companies and individuals who speak Chinese and Japanese, so the potential is huge."
Flory says that INWW indicated to the market its intention to license i-DNS technology months ago but had only signed off on the licensing agreement earlier this month.
Flory describes the service as the birth of the first truly international Internet community, where language is no longer a barrier.
Both the global Internet architecture body, the Internet Engineering Task Force, and the APNG have working groups examining the issues surrounding the new technology.
The recently formed Multilingual Internet Names Consortium has also been established to discuss policy and deployment issues.