ICANN hears this question all the time at meetings, events, in different online forums, on the idn.icann.org wiki, and in emails and phone calls. The great challenge is it the answer isn’t the specific “as of this date” answer so many people want to hear. Because of the nature of some critical functions that still needs to be finalized, such as for example the policy process, we’re only able to provide an estimate.
Right now both the GNSO and the ccNSO are taking a look at how IDNs can be introduced or delegated at the top-level – how you can get, say, all-Arabic-cahracters after the dot in a domain name. ICANN have processes for delgation of ccTLDs and there have been a couple of rounds in the past years for introduction of new gTLDs, but none of these included IDN TLDs.
For the GNSO this is a matter of the general process for introduction of new gTLDs. There is lots of information on this at: http://gnso.icann.org
The ccNSO is working on two processes right now – the overarching policy development process (PDP) for having IDN equivalents of the country-code top-level domains, and a fast-track process to find a way to introduce a limited number of “IDN ccTLDs” to represent territory identifications in characters from their their local languages in operation as ccTLDs as quickly as possible in the areas of highest need, without impacting the long-term policy process for the full implementation of IDNs.
The first draft report for the fast-track work has just been posted for public comments and will be discussed further during the ICANN meeting in Delhi. All IDN interested parties are urged to provide their comments on the report. The announcement and comment forum can be found here: http://www.icann.org/announcements/announcement-01feb08.htm
But back to the question. While both the fast-track and the process for introduction of new gTLDs are aiming at being available by mid- or late-2008, it will still take time to see IDN registrations because the next step will need to happen. IDN TLD operators need to step forward, get approved/delgatons need to take place, and start operating with registry operator going through any launch phase that they may have determined provides the best service to the community they are intending to serve.
Simply, even though processes are underway together with the rest of the IDN related work, it’s impossible to give a final or specific date for end users to get through all of those steps. That said, everyone working on this understands the incredible desire in the community and across the globe to have the first registrations under IDN TLDs. We are going to get there together.