19 November 2022

The next application round by the end of 2023 - realistic or not?

Update August 2023 – ICANN schedules the opening of the application window for the second quarter of 2026. Find more information in our new blog post.

Update April 2023 – As written in the article below, “the end of 2023” was very optimistic. In March 2023, the first concrete deadlines were set and we expect to be able to publish a more realistic timeline in June or October 2023. Our current guesstimate for the opening of the application window would be Q3 or Q4 2024. With this new date in mind, the elements of the timeline below remain unchanged.

The last time new domain extensions could be applied for was in 2012. The plan was to move on quickly, as the applicant guidebook explicitly states, “ICANN’s goal is to launch subsequent gTLD application rounds as quickly as possible. […] The goal is for the next application round to begin within one year of the close of the application submission period for the initial round.

We are now ten years on. Yet early this year I dared to make the prediction that the new application window will open “in the second half of 2023”. This I still stand by, with the necessary optimism.

I am sometimes asked whether this is an off-the-cuff prediction, for example to keep a bit of pressure on in talks with potential new applicants. That pressure is certainly needed, because the timeline outlined, while optimistic, is not unrealistic. I am happy to take you through the thinking behind this prediction, which is based on experiences from the previous round and the recommendations from the GNSO report.

The hour of truth

By far the most important moment in the timeline is the opening of the application window: this is what everyone is working towards. From this moment on, there is no more delay and 12 to 15 weeks to submit the application. If the application is not submitted within this time, you will have to wait until the next new round.

Between now and the hour of truth

The GNSO report makes a recommendation not only for the duration of the application window, but also for its announcement: the new application rules should be published at least four months before the window opens. This is the time when all the rules are fully clear for the first time and we can therefore work on the application. There is a total of about seven months (four months plus 12-15 weeks) for that.

Just a jump back to “now”. Right now, the design phase is under way. It started in January and was supposed to take 10 months, but was extended by six weeks due to a conflicting project. The completion date is scheduled for 12 December and I see no reason to doubt it.

The draft report goes to the board of regulator ICANN, which then has three months to decide on its progress. Given the very thorough preliminary work, it is unlikely that any fundamental changes will come out of this. The same goes for whether a “no, we won’t go through with it” is realistic: there is too much pressure for that from mainly brands and cities/regions. All in all, taking into account the holidays, this “board approval” should be on the table by the end of March 2023.

What remains is the period between board approval and publication of the application regulations. This is the “implementation phase” when all recommendations are converted into policy. Actually, this is the biggest question mark: is the preliminary work done sufficient to put this on paper easily? Will there be another “public comment period” and if so, what will come out of it? Or rather an accelerating factor: is the policy already being written on the points that are out of contention?

In my “best case scenario”, I assume 3 to 6 months, or somewhere between July and October 2023. This is when the four-month clock starts ticking and the application window could open sometime in the fourth quarter of 2023 or the first quarter of 2024. And that is what my prediction is based on. I can now fill in the missing dates:

To be perfectly honest, I think this timeline is too optimistic for the opening of the application window – see also the uncertainties further down. I would rather put my money on “the second half of 2024”. Bear in mind, however, that decision-making takes time, and time tends to fly. So you can’t start thinking about your plans early enough.

Between the hour of truth and the first domain registrations

Once all applications have been received by ICANN, the order in which applications are processed will be determined. Since the number of applications – and therefore when a specific application will be considered – is unknown, I can only base my timeline on the ideal case where ICANN considers the extension as one of the first.

The estimates come from the applicant guidebook of the previous round. Here, a period of two months is estimated for the administrative review of an application, followed by five months in which the application is assessed in detail (the “evaluation”). If everything is in order, the contractual work takes another two months or so. So after a total of about nine months, the extension can be active – or “delegated by ICANN”.

This is followed by a three-month “waiting period”. During this period, the application is checked against unexpected conflicts. An example is the extension “.mail”, used by a lot of applications for internal purposes. For geographical and other non-generic extensions, the chances of this happening are minimal.

Now the extension can actually be issued to interested parties. First, trademark owners have priority, then other right holders and finally, usually after a month or two, the extension becomes available to the general public: the “General Availability”. This is the moment when, for the first time, large numbers of domain names will be registered and used. Your extension is live!

What are the major uncertainties?

Before the application window opens, there are two major uncertainties. One is the duration of the implementation phase already mentioned. Another is whether the application regulations will be published immediately after the implementation phase, or whether there will be issues in between. For instance, there are rumours to start two key components (Applicant Support Program and RSP Pre-Evaluation Program) 18 months before the application window opens. If so, that could mean just one to one-and-a-half years of delay. On the bright side, there will then be few further uncertainties.

After the application window closes, the draw is particularly important: which application will be considered when? If you are lucky and at the front of the queue, things can move quickly. If you end up at the back of the queue, it can take years more, depending on the number of applications.

For generic extensions, there is the risk of conflicts: if there are several parties with the same application (.app was applied for by 13 parties in the previous round, for example), this will have to be resolved between them first. Also, if an extension is too similar to an already existing or also applied for extension (take .corn as an example, which is very similar to .com), a panel will look into this. For geographical extensions, that risk will not be high, although .amazon (both a US company and a region in South America) is a much-discussed example that is still undecided.

Finally, there is the time between signing the contract and rolling out the extension. Both internal and external factors can influence this period.

As soon as more visibility on each of the above uncertainties emerges, we will write about it. Most important right now is not to wait until the last minute to think about what you want with your digital identity. Good preparation will prevent surprises later on. Once the preparations are done, application and rollout are the milestones to live towards!

Translated with DeepL