A brief history of computer networking

We look back on some of the most important events in networking over the years and find out from the experts what the future of this sector is set to look like

What started out as a collection of computers sending commands to one another, has evolved into a computing sector covering areas such as Network Attached Storage, Wi-Fi, the cloud and the burgeoning Internet of Things market.

Here, we look back on some of the most important events in computer networking over the years and find out from the experts what the future of this sector is set to look like over the coming years…

George Stibitz, who is internationally recognised as one of the fathers of the first modern digital computer, uses a teletype (an electromechanical typewriter that can be used to send and receive typed messages) to send commands to the Complex Number Computer in New York over telegraph lines. It was the first computing machine ever used remotely.

American Airlines calls on IBM to implement the SABRE reservation system and online transaction processing is born. Using telephone lines, SABRE links 2,000 terminals in 65 cities to a pair of IBM 7090 computers and is able to deliver data on any flight in less than three seconds. Before the introduction of SABRE, the American Airlines’ system for booking flights was entirely manual. It consisted of a team of eight operators who sorted through a rotating file with cards for every flight.

Access to the ARPANET is expanded in 1981. In 1982, the internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) is introduced as the standard networking protocol on the ARPANET. In the early 1980s the NSF funds the establishment for national supercomputing centers at several universities, and provides interconnectivity in 1986 with the NSFNET project, which also created network access to the supercomputer sites in the United States from research and education organisations. Commercial Internet service providers (ISPs) begin to emerge in the late 1980s.

In the UK, on March 31st 2000, Telewest launches home ADSL – asymmetric digital subscriber line. Goldsmith Road in Gillingham, Kent, is the first street to receive the technology. In 2002, there were fewer than 200,000 broadband users, but just four years later, there were around 13 million.

Box launches an online file sharing and personal cloud content management service for businesses. By 2006 Amazon Web Services introduces its cloud storage service and gains widespread recognition as the storage supplier to emerging services such as Dropbox and Pinterest.

Fiber-optic broadband and new DOCSIS standards make broadband speeds easily reach 100Mbps. This in turn means end users need better routers to match the broadband speed.

The new Wi-Fi standard 802.11ac launches, offering faster speed (over 2Gbps) compared to 450Mbps of the previous 802.11n standard. Along with this comes better signal coverage. 802.11ac was ratified in 2014.

2016 and beyond
Now we know how the market has evolved, what’s in store for the networking sector in the future?

TP-Link UK country manager Nelson Qiao believes the demand for wireless is only going to continue to grow as smart home tech becomes more mainstream.

“More people have more connected devices and refuse to wait for downloads. The need for speed is opening up new wireless frequencies and encouraging manufacturers to develop more feature-rich products that are designed to be easy to set up and manage,” he tells PCR.

Paul Routledge, country manager for D-Link UK&I, agrees: “Smart home is certainly one of the most exciting new categories to emerge in recent years, and I’m delighted that D-Link is at the forefront of forging this market.”

Steven Tseng, territory product manager for ASUS’ networking & wireless devices business, believes that the trusty router will become the central hub of all smart home and Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

“The capabilities of routers will expand to allow more devices to connect to them, and IoT standards such as BLE and Zigbee will be implemented in router hardware too,” he says.

On the subject of IoT, Satyen Aggarwall, networking product manager at Northamber, cites this area of the industry as having ‘serious growth implications for networking moving forward’.

“The cloud has also galvanized a revolution in the way in which networking is being viewed with the advent of software defined networking, which essentially gives more programmability over your network traffic, giving the power back to your IT department to create a bespoke networking template,” says Aggarwall. “Over the next 10 years, the more traditional forms of networking will start to move over to this new technology.”

Qsan’s technical sales manager for the UK, Ireland and Nordics, Stefan Ferrari, also notes the future potential of hard disk array NAS solutions: “By 2020, digital data bits stored throughout the world will rival the number of stars in the universe. Our ‘digital universe’ is doubling in size every two years, so it’s important that data can be captured, analysed, and archived – anytime and anywhere. Network Attached Storage (NAS) is the ideal solution for this unstructured data.

“A recent report from Toshiba shows that spinning disks will keep growing with a potential to reach 20TB to 40TB by the end of the decade thanks to new technologies such as SMR (shingled magnetic recording). Therefore hard drives are here to stay for a long time,” he comments.

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