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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 January, 2004, 03:51 GMT
What the net did next
By Mark Ward
BBC News Online technology correspondent

The internet is set to become the basis for just about every form of communication, according to net pioneer Vint Cerf, and he should know what he is talking about.

Net pioneer Vint Cerf receiving an award at UCL in London
Dr Cerf was in London to celebrate 30 years of net going international
No matter how long you have been using the net, it is a fair bet that Vint Cerf has been using it longer.

Not least because Dr Cerf has been involved with the net since its earliest days, in fact, even before it existed.

He has been called "the father of the internet", although he says that is a title he is unhappy with.

But if he is not the father he may well be the midwife because he was present at its birth.

Dr Cerf helped design the net's basic protocols that ensure that all those packets of data reach their intended destination.

With Bob Kahn, Dr Cerf wrote the blueprint for the formidably named "Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol" (TCP/IP) that defines the format of net data packets and how they get to their destination.

TCP/IP was key to turning the Arpanet into the internet.

Small start

The Arpanet came before the net and made it possible to connect different sorts of computers and operating systems via one type of computer network.

By contrast, the net, thanks to TCP/IP, could let people on different sorts of computer networks swap information. It was a network of networks rather than machines.

Dr Cerf told BBC News Online that in the early 1970s no-one involved with the fledgling internet had any idea about what it would grow up into.

"When we were doing the original TCP/IP specifications my sense was we were just getting all the networks to work together," he said, "It was just an engineering problem."

Dr Cerf's sense that the internet would grow into something much bigger took time to form.

He said that his first inklings of its impact came in 1986 when he went to the Interop trade show in San Francisco and saw the huge stands of firms such as Cisco, Proteon and Ungermann-Bass who made and sold net hardware.

"At that point it dawned on me that if there was a real commercial market it was stranded by the fact that the internet was only available to academic, military and research communities," he said.

This prompted Dr Cerf to move to US phone company MCI to set up the MCImail service that went live in the early 1990s.

Close up of barcode, BBC
Barcodes could join the net naming scheme
It was helped by a legislative change that allowed commercial traffic to pass over the government sponsored part of the net.

Add in the World Wide Web and a freely available browser and the rest has made history.

And, Dr Cerf believes, the net is not done with us yet.

Big changes

He said that the first decade of the net, 1972-1982, was about designing, testing and deploying the net's basic technologies.

The second decade was about consolidation and commercialisation and the third about broad, popular use.

The next decade, he believes, will see the net spread even further and start to become the basic communications infrastructure for almost anything.

To begin with, he thinks, the net will stop being a part of the telephone network. Instead the telephone network will become a part of the net.

This could be thanks to Voice Over IP technology that chops up phone calls into bits of data and sends them across the net instead of dedicated, and expensive, phone lines.

In Japan NTT's profits have been dented because people can call much more cheaply via the Yahoo BB VoIP service they get as part of their ADSL subscription.

If you have the ivory tower view that the internet is good only if everything on it is good you are mistaken
Vint Cerf
Increased use of VoIP could be just the start, believes Dr Cerf.

"You are going to see a fairly dramatic increase in services riding on top of basic internet infrastructure," he said, "You will see more and more layers of functionality showing up in the net."

One such could be Grid computing that virtualises processing and storage resources and lets people use, or rent, the capacity they need for particular tasks.

Other key areas revolve around novel naming systems that allow objects other than web servers and net domains to become part of the net.

The Enum initiative attempts to turn phone numbers into net addresses and give people a universal way of contacting anyone, provided they know at least one e-mail, address, phone or pager number for them.

Allied to this is the work on Naming Authority Pointer (NATPR) that broadens the net's reach considerably.

Mars, Nasa
Dr Cerf has proposed extending the net to other planets
"It allows you to take a domain name and map it into whatever ID space you want to," he said, "I think that's a sleeping giant because it allows you to escape the bonds of the DNS and move into new naming spaces that have very different characteristics."

NATPR allows almost anything, such as book or magazine ISBN codes, to become an address space that the net can work with.

There were also likely to be significant social changes powered by the spread of the net, said Dr Cerf, even though some of the changes may be fought by some.

"I think it is hard to stop the proliferation of these technologies," he said, "I feel like typhoid Mary, I want to spread it as far as possible."

He said: "More information is a good thing."

But he added: "If you have the ivory tower view that the internet is good only if everything on it is good you are mistaken."

"The internet is a reflection of our society and that mirror is going to be reflecting what we see," he said. "If we do not like what we see in that mirror the problem is not to fix the mirror, we have to fix society."

Web's inventor gets a knighthood
31 Dec 03  |  Technology
Promise of ultra-fast downloads
05 Jun 03  |  Technology
Clinton honours Net pioneers
17 Dec 97  |  Science/Nature
30 years of the international internet
19 Nov 03  |  Technology
The net takes to the air
09 May 01  |  Science/Nature
Net promises closer ties
14 Jun 01  |  Science/Nature
Net struggles with data overload
16 Sep 03  |  Technology

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