WHAT IS THE INTERNET ANDWHO INVENTED IT?

Over the course of the past twenty years the Internet has developed at a rapid rate and thanks to the introduction of Wi-Fi, 3G, fibre optic and coming soon G.fast, many of us are always connected. But how did it all start and who was behind creating the Internet?

Joe looking confused

What is the Internet?

Whether it’s browsing social media, online shopping, or streaming your favourite TV shows, most people use the Internet every day – but what exactly is it?

In simple terms, the Internet is a system of communication between computer networks that allows information (whether it’s text, images, sound, or video) to be passed from one location to another. The Internet predominantly works using a method called packet switching.

Packet switching is a communication method wherein data is broken down into small chunks at its source, then reconstructed at its destination. By breaking large parts of information down into these ‘packets’, computer networks can route this data across the internetwork reliably and quickly. Any packets lost along the way can be retransmitted without having to download the whole file again.

How was the Internet invented?

The Internet wasn’t really invented per se, instead it was formed using a culmination of different types of computer communication technology developed by several scientific groups. Various different internets began to connect up over time, forming the Internet we know today.

ARPANET and TCP/IP

Back when computers took up a whole room, scientists were constantly looking at new ways to make them process more information at faster speeds.

This desire for speed and efficiency led to scientists developing ARPANET, a system of computer communication that was created by the US Department of Defence for government research. The first data transfer demonstrating a four-way connected network took place from Stanford University, the University of California at Santa Barbara, UCLA, and the University of Utah.

In the 1970s, this four-way connection was the first Internet connection in the world. Scientists in many other countries developed their own in the following years, but communication between the different networks was difficult, as each connection used its own language to send and receive data.

In 1982 Vinton Cerf, a manager for the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), joined Bob Kahn’s research team and together they worked on the first versions of the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP). TCP/IP became the universal language of the Internet, allowing all computers to reliably send and route the information that was being transmitted to its destination.

The invention of the World Wide Web and email

Email was invented in 1971 by Ray Tomlinson as a method of communicating over ARPANET. However, it wasn’t until the early 1990s that email began to be used by ordinary people, becoming one of the driving forces behind the rising popularity of the Internet.

British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee was the creator of another vitally important invention – the World Wide Web. It was invented in 1991 as a method of sharing research between CERN scientists more easily. Berners-Lee invented the first web browser, server, and website – his idea was based on the concept of embedding links to other pages (hyperlinks) in the HTML of the webpage itself. His Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and the web address (URL) are concepts still used today.

For many years, the Internet was predominantly used by government groups and scientists, but in 1995, commercial Internet access started to be sold to consumers.

Dial-up Internet

The first iteration of the Internet available for commercial use was dial-up. Dial-up Internet required a phone-line to operate, so phone calls couldn’t be made using a landline while the Internet was in use.

Speed was a significant issue in the early days. By 1998, the best connection users could hope for was 56Kbps. This diminutive connection speed meant that downloading a file could often become a time-consuming process, and streaming music or video wasn’t viable. In addition, the earliest modems weren’t cheap with the latest 28.8Kbps modem costing up to £399 back in the early 90’s.

Broadband and Wi-Fi

The next development of home browsing was the introduction of broadband and wireless Internet.

Broadband started to replace dial-up in the early 2000s, with half of all Internet users possessing a broadband connection by 2007. Broadband allows a significantly higher volume of data to be transferred at faster speeds by using an ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) connection.

Broadband also differs from dial-up as it’s always connected to the Internet, and doesn’t need to be ‘switched on’ to work.

Wireless Internet started rolling out commercially to the public in 1999, with the release of the Apple Airport, closely followed by the release of a Windows-focused Wi-Fi router in 2001. These devices quickly became the norm, replacing Ethernet cables that had to be physically plugged into a computer to work.

Wireless Internet hotspots were soon introduced at many businesses, such as coffee shops, retail stores, and offices. Wireless Internet hotspots offer the public access to the Internet, often for free, and operate using a wireless local area network (WLAN) connected to a router.

Cable broadband

Cable broadband was introduced after ADSL broadband, offering potentially faster Internet speeds by operating over cable television wires, rather than a phone line. Cable Internet speeds can fluctuate, and are limited by the bandwidth allowed by the cable wire. While ADSL connections are widely accessible, cable broadband isn’t as common, and is available to around half of the UK.

The invention of 2G, 3G, and 4G

When smartphones were initially released, early adopters had to make do with a sluggish 9.6Kbps connection, even slower than traditional home dial up. Speeds were improved with onset of 2G, which could reach speeds of up to 56Kbps, but mobile Internet didn’t truly reach its potential until the development of 3G.

This third generation of mobile Internet could reach speeds of up to 200Kbps, transforming the way people used smartphones forever. 4G was released in 2010, improving mobile Internet speeds even further to a reputable 15Mbps.

Fibre optic broadband

Speed and efficiency have remained at the forefront of the development of the Internet, with superfast fibre broadband emerging as the next evolution of connectivity.

Fibre optic broadband delivers vastly improved speeds because it uses fibre optic cables, instead of copper wire. Fibre optic cables are composed from thin strands of glass that allow laser light to travel down them at literally the speed of light – vastly improving the speed that data can be sent and received.

If you’re interested in supercharging your Internet speed, take a look at our fibre optic broadband packages.

The Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the connection of everyday items to the Internet, allowing them to be operated digitally. The concept refers to most products prefaced with ‘smart’ – like smart meters, smart thermostats, and smart locks. The IoT is intended to improve the efficiency of day-to-day life, allowing users to control household functions using a smartphone or mobile device.

G.fast Internet

G.fast is the next generation of ultrafast Internet, offering speeds up to 300Mbps– significantly speedier than fibre optic broadband.

Unlike fibre optic, G.fast uses existing copper wires, and works by expanding the frequency range used by broadband signals. G.fast has been introduced in many locations throughout the UK, including Kent and Cambridgeshire, with the service expected to be available to the whole country by 2025.