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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 November, 2003, 14:59 GMT
30 years of the international internet
Birthday cake candles, BBC
Celebrations are marking a net landmark
Celebrations are being held this week to mark 30 years of the internet making its first international links.

In 1973 the first non-US connections to the Arpanet, the forerunner of the modern internet, were set up. The first two countries to connect were the UK and Norway.

The first public demonstration of this transatlantic data link was given in the UK in November 1973.

The celebrations also mark 30 years since the basic protocols of the net were first set down.

National interest

Before the internet there was the Arpanet. This forerunner of the network of networks we rely on today was built to help US researchers exchange information more freely.

Before 1973 the Arpanet, funded by the US government's Advanced Research Projects Agency, was an entirely US phenomenon and, at that time, had 20 nodes.

But it became an international network in 1973 when the University College London (UCL) and Norway's National Defence Research Establishment joined via dedicated phone lines running at a mighty 9.6 kilobits per second.

The transatlantic link came about because of discussions between Larry Roberts, the driving force behind the Arpanet, and British scientist Donald Davies.

Mr Davies had done pioneering work on so-called packet switching networks that transfer data by splitting it up into small chunks. The technology was seen as essential if large numbers of people were to be able to use computer networks.

The theory of packet-switching had been talked about in the US but Mr Davies created a working network at the UK's National Physical Laboratory.

Arpa agreed to provide basic Arpanet hardware and fund a transatlantic link to Norway if the UK could find the cash to pay for a line to meet it.

Cash crisis

Mr Davies enlisted the help of UCL computer scientist Peter Kirstein to get the link working but the entire project almost failed because of institutional and official indifference.

Mass of telephone cables, BBC
Now millions connect to the net
Dr Kirstein said the British research funding council refused a request for cash help and the Department of Trade and Industry demanded business involvement before they would cough up funds.

Despite these setbacks, Dr Kirstein and colleagues decided to continue and the link went live, via Norway, in July 1973.

In November that year the first public demonstration of the link, and the researchers and information it gave access to, was demonstrated at a conference at the University of Sussex and then later in a public lecture.

Mr Kirstein said it was an instant hit with researchers and he remembers a dinner party at his home in that year which saw geeks queuing up the stairs to use the teletype terminal he had installed in his home so they could check their e-mail messages.

A presentation and ceremony is being held at UCL to commemorate 30 years of international links to the internet.

It was in 1973 that the Arpanet took the first steps to becoming the internet as Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn drew up the basic specifications for ways to swap data across different types of network

The Arpanet avoided this problem by imposing strict standards on the ways that devices connected to it had to work.

But Mr Cerf and Mr Kahn realised that an neutral way of swapping data between different types of networks was essential. The end result of this was the TCP/IP protocol which powers the net to this day.




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