There have been many technological revolutions in the world from humans inventing their tools and cutlery millennia ago to the birth of the first wheel, weapons, building techniques, manufacturing, and irrigation. Mankind has made such unprecedented progress in the face of adversity that it is sometimes unimaginable how far we have come. From the development of the printing press, semiconductors, and fission technology to the discovery of electricity, penicillin, and oil; there have been countless innovations that have shaped the world as we see it today. However, none of these inventions and breakthroughs even come close to the development, growth, and expansion of the Internet.
Technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Cloud Computing, IoT, Interconnected Networks, Extended Reality, Datafication, and 5G are the talk of the town now but what if I tell you that this would have never been possible without the birth of the Internet? The Internet in all its majesty today is the backbone of modern society, business, information, and progress. The Internet and computing technologies are the only two modern innovations that are not only used in all spheres of community life and entertainment but have also revolutionized every single field and vessel of growth and progress. It is the basic building block and infrastructure that our society stands on and it will not be wrong to argue that without it, life, as we know it today, will cease to exist.
But how did it materialize and what were the precursors to the modern Internet? Let’s take a look:
Early Networks (Pre-Dating Computers)
The earliest forms of the first digital data communication systems can be seen in the late 19th century in the use of diverse electromagnetic mediums, including the radio and the electric wire. It functioned as a point-to-point system between two devices. Good examples of such devices include telegraph systems and telex machines.
However, the rapid development of bandwidth and telecommunications technology took place from the academic foundations of information theory. Widespread applications of this theory led to the birth of coding/data compression (Zip Files), channel coding (DSL), compact disc, mobile phones, and ultimately the development of the modern internet as we know it today.
Early Computer Networks
The most basic expansion of computer networks started with the concept of, ‘time-sharing’ in 1953, though powerful computers such as the likes of Elliott/NRDC 401 Computer MkI existed, researchers had to travel long distances to use it.
To solve this problem ‘time-sharing’ was invented to make the most out of an exclusive and expensive computer. This was later taken to another level through the use of packet switching which allowed error-free information transmissions over large distances without a dedicated phone connection between individual computers on a network.
The ARPANET (Advance Research Projects Agency Network)
The concept of ‘time-sharing’ and ‘packet-switching’ eventually led to the development of ARPANET – the world’s first wide-area packet-switched network with resource-sharing capabilities and distributed control.
This finally materialized in the world’s first TCP/IP known as the Network Control Protocol (NCP) – a predecessor to TCP and a revolutionary step forward in the world of telecommunications and computing that allowed data networking (remote login, file transfer, and email). It ran successfully throughout the 70’s under the supervision of DoD. However, it was highly regulated and only a few people and corporations could actually use it. This later moved to the X.25 protocol that further introduced other applications and systems, including the Automated Teller Machine.
NFSNET (National Science Foundation Network)
The need for progressive research and education networking prompted the National Science Foundation to build nationwide regional computer networks that laid the foundations of the global Internet or the World Wide Web as we know it today.
This materialized the foundations of early concepts like TCP/IP, CLNP, domain name, IP address, and upgraded backbones (servers) into practical and sophisticated architectures and reality. However, these regional networks were still restricted to the masses and highly regulated.
Commercial ISPs (Internet Service Providers)
In 1989 ISPs started to rise in the United States and Australia, and subsequently, ARPANET was retired in the 1990s and so did its optical backbone in 1995. The last vestiges and restrictions on the Internet to carry commercial traffic were removed and commercial service providers such as Sprint, MCI, and AT&T took charge and the rest is history.
The Internet went global, and continuing advanced research, particularly by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN Switzerland led to the foundation of the World Wide Web. And further research, into wave division multiplexing and fiber optic cables in the 1990s, led to lightning-fast speeds that revolutionized every single aspect of human society as we know it today. For instance, by 2007, 97% of all telecommunicated information was done through the Internet.
Continuing enhancements and experimentations in fiber optic technology clocked speeds of 800Gbps in 2019, though they did not become commercially available. However, an internet speed of even 1 Gbps is enough to conduct 99% of complex computing, advanced research, and business processes.
However, for private consumers and businesses that require lightning-fast speed, Xfinity Internet provides one of the most affordable and dependable Internet connections with speeds up to 6Gbps. With its massive hybrid fiber-coaxial connection and large public-WIFI network, one would not have to worry about connectivity anymore.
The transformative potential of the Internet is limitless as highlighted and the time is not far, when people will operate their own little virtual worlds.