How do new gTLD launch phases work?
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Since ICANN opened up applications for new gTLDs in 2012, the Internet has seen the birth of over 1,000 new domain extensions. Some of these, such as .xyz, .site, and .online, are so popular that it’s easy to forget that ten years ago, they did not even exist! Many other new gTLDs were created primarily in order to satisfy the demands of a particular niche – from .beauty and .organic to the newly launched .music.
New gTLDs make the Internet a more diverse place, in which anyone can find a short and catchy domain name with a domain extension that fits their website and goals. But where are all of these new gTLDs coming from? In this article, we will dive deeper into the various steps that make up the release of new gTLDs, including the various launch phases that each TLD goes through before it becomes available to the general public.
What are the launch phases of a new gTLD?
A new gTLD will go through the following launch phases before it becomes available to the general public:
- Domain application at ICANN.
- Sunrise Phase.
- Early Access Program and/or Limited Access Program (optional).
- General Availability.
How do domain applications at ICANN work?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the global organization responsible for managing the domain name system (DNS). All applications to launch new gTLDs must necessarily pass through ICANN.
ICANN first opened up proposals for new gTLDs in 2012, in what would come to be known as the first round of new gTLD applications. In total, this round yielded 1930 submitted applications. 1241 of these proposed new gTLDs have successfully passed through the application process and are currently live on the Internet. 646 applications were withdrawn voluntarily by applicants, while 39 were rejected.
ICANN is expected to open up a second round of applications in the second quarter of 2026, and it is expected to function similarly to the first round in 2012. Applicants will be able to submit their proposals online. Afterward, ICANN will evaluate every proposal individually for its operational, technical, and financial feasibility. All applicants need to prove that they are capable of handling the demands of being a registry operator. During their review process, ICANN also takes steps to ensure that a proposed TLD does not conflict with existing TLDs or pose any security risks.
What are Sunrise Phases?
It is worth noting that not every approved new gTLD will immediately be available on the Internet – or be available to the general public at all. Many companies choose to apply for their own, branded TLDs that will never extend beyond internal use – from .google and .bmw to .northwesternmutual, which also holds the somewhat dubious honor of being the longest TLD on the Internet.
When a registry operator does decide to launch a new gTLD, this launch process always starts with a Sunrise Phase. This phase offers a first opportunity for trademark owners to secure domain names matching their trademarks within the new gTLD. Sunrise Phases serve to protect intellectual property rights and prevent scamming and fraud.
Sunrise Phases can last anywhere between a few weeks and a few months. In order to be able to register one’s trademark during the Sunrise Phase, you need to have your trademark verified with the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), the domain industry’s official trademark agency.
What is the Early Access Program (EAP)?
Following the Sunrise Phase, some registries opt to have an Early Access Program (EAP). During this phase, registrations of the new gTLD are open to anyone, but the prices are much higher than the ones that will be charged during General Availability. The cost of registration gradually decreases over a period of several days or weeks.
The point of an EAP is to allow businesses and individuals to secure premium domain names at varying price points. Not all new gTLDs offer an EAP. Some progress directly from Sunrise to General Availability.
Besides an EAP, some registries may choose to offer phases with limited access to segments of their target audience. These phases can have various names, such as “Limited Access Program” (LAP) or “Community Access Phase”. The goal of these phases is to allow a specific audience, such as members of a particular industry or community, to register high-value domain names before they become open to registration by the general public.
What is General Availability?
Once the Sunrise Phase, EAP, and/or LAP (if applicable) are completed, the new gTLD enters the General Availability phase. This is when domain names within the new gTLD become available at a standard registration price. In most cases, there will be no registration requirements in place, and anyone will be able to register a domain name of their choice. However, some niche TLDs can only be registered by users who meet specific requirements. Always consult your registrar’s website to see if this is the case.
Can a new gTLD be discontinued?
As individual domain names can expire, this raises the question of whether this could also happen to a new gTLD. Whilst rare, TLD discontinuations can and do happen. There are two possible scenarios in which this may take place. Either ICANN will request termination if a registry operator has breached a fundamental agreement, or the registry operator will request a termination themselves. There are no known cases of this happening to publicly available new gTLDs. However, there are quite a number of discontinued branded TLDs, including those of well-known brands like .intel and .mcdonalds!
Why register a domain name with a new gTLD?
As the digital landscape continues to evolve, the introduction of new gTLDs offers exciting opportunities for businesses and individuals to establish a distinctive online presence. Understanding the various launch phases and the associated concepts is essential for making informed decisions about domain registration within these new gTLDs.
Are you ready to take the plunge and register your own domain name with a new gTLD? Openprovider offers more than 2,000 domain extensions up for registration, including hundreds of new gTLDs. Check our full offer of TLDs and easily register your own domain name on our domain registration page.
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