The History of Broadband Technology

A collection of yellow internet wires in front of small lights

Arguably the most important of all modern inventions, the internet has opened up an infinite amount of possibilities in nearly every part of our lives. It has had such an impact that new generations are now being defined by their actions through the medium, and the difference between online and reality is slowly becoming more blurred than anybody could have ever dreamed of.

In this modern world of instant connectivity, it’s easy to forget where it all began. In an astonishingly small amount of time, we have gone from sending text emails and spending days downloading items to the ability to talk to each other through HD quality video while walking along streets on the other side of the world! Join us as we take a step back and look at the progress this technology has made since its early beginnings.

How did the Internet Start?

It’s important, first of all, to separate the words broadband and internet. In the modern age of effortless and wireless technology, these two have come to be used as general terms for the same thing. However, they are two separate terms.

Many different people could claim to have invented the internet, as it had been discussed theoretically since the 1950s. However, most sources give credit to the invention of the internet to BBN Technologies, a group of predominantly student programmers who created ARPANET. Propelled by funding from the U.S. Military during the Cold War, the technology used to send messages hundreds of miles slowly developed until the 1990s, when the ability to browse the internet without prior programming knowledge became possible thanks to Mosaic, the first successful web browser.

During the early days of home internet, connection to networks was made through telephones. Known as dial-up, this early method was very slow and particularly cumbersome, as it wouldn’t let people use the phone that was being used to connect.

Ethernet cables connecting to the back of an internet router

When was Broadband Invented?

Broadband actually defines the method of connection that went on to widely replace dial-up connection, which is otherwise known as ‘narrowband’. Put simply, broadband allowed the internet signal to split into two, which not only improved internet speeds considerably but also allowed people to use their telephones at the same time. This was a significant step for the internet and allowed the simple download of files such as music and videos that we now take for granted. First introduced around the year 2000, by 2007 half of all internet users had switched to this form of connection.

At around the same time, wireless routers were introduced by the likes of Apple and Microsoft. Suddenly, people had gone from struggling to download a song in an afternoon to browsing videos online in internet cafes!

The Creation of G

Arguably the most underappreciated invention since early broadband, mobile networking transformed the way we used the internet. Following on the heels of the creation of smartphones, 2G internet allowed people to get decent connection speed on their devices wherever they went. However, it was the subsequent versions, 3G and 4G, that brought mobile internet truly into the mainstream.

Fibre Optics

While seen as a modern update on the broadband of the early 21st Century, the technology behind fibre optics has been around for many centuries before! Alexander Graham Bell patented a communication device based on this technology in 1880, although his previous invention, the telephone, went on to become much more popular.

A cousin of the ‘laser’ technology, fibre optics in a broadband sense involves the use of light as data. Replacing the old copper wires with new glass fibre, light is able to be transported from one place to the other, meaning data can be moved at the speed of light! A cable sleeve is used to contain these thin, powerful strands that make up the majority of modern broadband technology.

A diagram of a network of blue lines on a white background

The Future of Broadband

People are still looking at ways to increase the speed of fibre broadband technology, with the potential to ‘twist’ the light sent down fibre optics seen as the technology’s next progression. However, given the speed of internet development so far, it is likely that fibre optics will be replaced over the next five or ten years.

The creation and slow global rollout of 5G mobile technology has led to some people suggesting that this will be the future outlook of all internet connections, with names such as Elon Musk and Google investing money into wireless broadband research.

For now, the next generation of broadband connection looks set to come in the form of G.Fast. Significantly faster than current fibre optic broadband speeds, this method is a hybrid between fibre optics and traditional copper which creates an expanded frequency range to deliver much more data.

What is clear from looking back on history is that the internet is far from finished. With technologies such as the Internet of Things, blockchain, smart fabrics and augmented and virtual reality still to be refined, these are fascinating times for the future of technology.

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