Registration of Chinese domain names in Hong Kong began last week using technology that promises to expand the Web far beyond its English-language foundation.
Companies in Hong Kong and some Southeast Asian countries now can register Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) that are rendered only in Simplified or Traditional Chinese characters instead of in Western alphabets and Arabic numerals.
Proponents of Chinese domain names say they will help to open up the Internet to a huge market of users and companies that can only read Chinese or prefer using their own language to English.
The past few months have seen a flood of online content providers lining up to serve Internet users in China and other Chinese-speaking communities.
The 3rd Generation Network Information Centre (3GNIC), a subsidiary of Internet development company Asia Prime Network, was designated the official registrar of Chinese domain names in Hong Kong. 3GNIC officials said the company will also assign Chinese domains in some other countries, including Malaysia.
Registration of Chinese names began last month in Taiwan and is starting this month in Singapore, 3GNIC officials said.
Internet service provider HKNet also began Chinese domain registration this week for Hong Kong-based companies.
Both companies are working with Singapore-based i-DNS.net International, which developed the Internationalized Domain Name System (iDNS). i-DNS will perform registration functions and maintain the domain database.
The domains are assigned with Chinese equivalents to the suffixes .com, .net, and .org. Registration costs HK$480 (US$62) a year.
The technology will eventually allow for domain names in other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, German, Finnish, Arabic and Hebrew, according to i-DNS.
3GNIC is in Hong Kong and can be reached at http://www.3gdns.com HKNet is in Hong Kong and can be reached at http://www.hknet.com. i-DNS.net International is in Singapore and can be reached on the Web at http://www.i-dns.net