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Development of the Internet

4-node map, 1969

ARPANET is born (1960) : an Internet is conceived

In 1969 the Pentagon commissioned ARPANET for research into networking. The following year, Vinton Cerf and others published their first proposals for protocols that would allow computers to 'talk' to each other. ARPANET began operating Network Control Protocol (NCP), the first host-to-host protocol.

In 1974 Vint Cerf joined Bob Kahn to present their 'Protocol for Packet Network Interconnection' specifying the detailed design of the 'Transmission Control Program' (TCP) - the basis of the modern Internet. In 1978 TCP was split into TCP (now short for Transmission Control Protocol) and IP (Internet Protocol).

TCP/IP settings

TCP/IP defined : the foundation of the Internet

In 1982 TCP/IP was established as the protocol for ARPANET. This provided one of the first definitions of an internet as a connected set of networks using TCP/IP, but defining 'the Internet' as all connected TCP/IP internets.The launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik in 1957 threw the American military and scientific establishment into near panic with visions of Soviet weapons in space striking a helpless America. As part of the response, in 1959 the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) was formed within the Pentagon to establish an American lead in military science and technology.

By the early 1960s the first theories of computer networking were starting to be shaped and in 1965 ARPA sponsored a study on 'co-operative network of time-sharing computers'.

The first such plan was shaped by Lawrence G. Roberts, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in October 1966. Designs for such a network were put forward the following year and in 1968 the Pentagon sent out requests for proposals for ARPANET - a computer network to unite America's military and scientific establishments.

World Wide Web

The World Wide Web is invented (1991) : anyone and everyone

By the end of the 1980s the European Particle Research Laboratory CERN in Geneva was one of the premier Internet sites in Europe. CERN desperately needed a better way of locating all the files, documents and other resources that now threatened to overwhelm it.

A young British scientist, Tim Berners-Lee, working as a consultant for CERN, had the answer. His 'World Wide Web' system assigned a common system of written addresses and hypertext links to all information. Hypertext is the organisation of information units into connections that a user can make, the association is called a link.

In October 1990 Berners-Lee started working on a hypertext graphical user interface (GUI) browser and editor. In 1991 the first WWW files were made available on the Internet for download using File Transfer Protocol (FTP).

By 1993 the world was starting to wake up to the World Wide Web. In October that year there were around 200 known HTTP servers. Within a year there would be thousands.

May 1994 saw the first International WWW Conference - at CERN in Geneva. The event was heavily oversubscribed, with 800 applying to attend and only 400 allowed in.

By now the load on the first Web server at CERN was 1,000 times what it had been three years earlier.

ISDN high-speed connection

The search for speed (1965) : waiting for the progress bar

The Post Office's first computer modem in 1965 ran at a maximum speed (or data transfer rate) of 600 bits per second. Today's modems run at 56kbit/s, nearly 100 times faster.

So why does the Internet experience seem so depressingly slow at times?

One reason is file size. Files took less time to cross the system in 1965 simply because they were smaller and were plain text, with no formatting. We pay for rich data in longer file transfer times.

Users also generally share a node (entry point) to the Internet, meaning you may have to wait a while for your turn to come round.

Furthermore, if you're hitting a popular site, you'll be competing with hundreds or thousands of others for the attention of that site's servers.

What can you do? Not a lot. You could try changing the time of day you go online, remembering that America accounts for easily half the traffic on the Web - and they're between five and eight hours behind.

BT ISP promotion

The Internet price war : when ISPs collide

Just as the saying goes about there's no such thing as a 'free lunch', there is also no such thing as free Internet access - with nobody as yet finding a way to provide the telephone or data connections involved completely free of charge.

That said, prices have fallen with some Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offering unlimited dial-up access, faster connections through broadband technology, virus scanning and lots more lot for a fixed monthly charge.

Originally, many ISPs made money by taking a proportion of the call costs. There was no monthly subscription but users had to pay local call rates, meaning the bill grew with every extra minute spent online. Complaints that this was holding back Internet use coupled with pressure on margins and it was this that spurred most ISPs into offering tariffs that now give unlimited use for a fixed price.

Making internet access available to everyone in the UK is also firmly in the minds of our politicians with the three main parties continually stressing its importance in our lives.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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