How did the internet start?

  • The internet, originating as an academic endeavor in 1969, has burgeoned into a globally pervasive commercial network, boasting over 5.35 billion users worldwide and characterised by its decentralised structure.
  • The internet comprises three key components: the last mile, data centers, and the backbone, each serving vital functions in facilitating global connectivity and data exchange.
  • The establishment of ARPA in response to Sputnik’s launch in 1957 marked a pivotal moment, leading to the development of ARPAnet and laying the groundwork for the modern internet as we know it today.

When you swipe through an endless stream of entertaining TikTok videos, diligently catch up on the latest news updates each day, or lose yourself in the vast array of content available on YouTube, it prompts a curious pondering: what exactly serves as the fundamental backbone for all these diverse internet services?

The internet stands as an unparalleled marvel, shaping the very fabric of our daily lives. It’s the invisible force behind our digital interactions, seamlessly bridging vast distances and connecting billions of people across the globe.

Eager to learn about the inception of this groundbreaking technology and the visionary individuals who brought it to life? Stay tuned!

What is the internet?

Originally conceived as an academic research project in 1969, the internet swiftly evolved into a global commercial network by the 1990s. Today, its reach extends to over 5.35 billion individuals worldwide, solidifying its status as the premier computer network on the planet.

The internet’s decentralisation stands as a crucial feature. No single entity claims ownership or dictates access privileges. Instead, voluntary interconnection agreements are brokered among numerous independent groups managing their respective networks.

Also read: What is ICANN? Inside the non-profit org that ensures the stability of the internet

Anatomy of the Internet

The internet comprises three fundamental components: the last mile, data centers, and the backbone.

The last-mile infrastructure acts as the crucial link between a broadband network provider’s larger network and individual homes or buildings. It serves as the bridge where data transitions from the network infrastructure to the device, simplifying the concept.

Data centres are expansive facilities housing servers that store internet applications, websites, and user data. While some are owned by tech giants like Google and Facebook, others are operated by smaller entities.

Data centres possess fast internet connectivity capabilities due to their capacity to serve numerous clients concurrently. They are commonly positioned in remote areas characterised by accessible and cost-effective land and electricity resources.

Internet backbones play a pivotal role as high-performance core networks, connecting smaller subnetworks managed by various providers. These subnetworks converge at the backbone, enabling global data exchange on the Internet. While optical fiber is the primary medium for data transmission, satellite links are also utilised in some cases.

Pop quiz

What purpose do data centres serve in the internet ecosystem?

A. They provide internet connectivity to end-users.

B. They manage subnetworks and interconnection agreements.

C. They house servers storing internet applications, websites and user data.

D. They are remote areas with cost-effective land and electricity resources.

The correct answer is at the bottom of the article.

Establishment of ARPA

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first manmade satellite, into orbit, sparking concerns in the United States about technological superiority.

In direct response to Sputnik’s launch, President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1958. The goal of ARPA was to give the US a technical advantage over other nations. A key component of ARPA’s objective was computer science.

Objective of ARPA

In the past, computers were large and less powerful than modern PCs. They often relied on punch cards or magnetic tape and couldn’t be networked together.

ARPA aimed to alter this course and enlisted the expertise of Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) to develop a computer network.

Established in 1948 by Dr. Richard Bolt, Dr. Leo Beranek, and Robert Newman, BBN began as a prominent technology firm specialising in acoustics before broadening its scope to encompass various cutting-edge technologies.

The task at hand involved connecting four machines, each running different operating systems, across the network. This project resulted in the creation of ARPAnet, a groundbreaking achievement in the realm of computer networking.

The picture of a computer from 1960.

ARPAnet’s foundations

In 1962, J.C.R. Licklider, a scientist affiliated with M.I.T. and ARPA, proposed a revolutionary idea: a “galactic network” of interconnected computers to counter the Soviet threat of network destruction. This visionary network aimed to ensure seamless communication among government leaders.

In 1965, another M.I.T. scientist introduced “packet switching,” a groundbreaking data transfer method. Packet switching breaks data into packets before sending them to their destination. Each packet can then autonomously travel from one location to another, enhancing efficiency and reliability in communication networks.

Both methods are closely related to ARPAnet. Licklider’s concept envisioned a decentralised network of interconnected computers, while packet switching provided a fundamental building block for ARPAnet’s architecture, enabling efficient data transmission across interconnected computers.

Overall, these innovations were pivotal to the development of ARPAnet and the evolution of the modern internet.

Pop quiz

What visionary concept did J.C.R. Licklider propose in 1962?

A. A global social media platform

B. A “galactic network” of interconnected computers

C. The first smartphone

D. A new programming language

The correct answer is at the bottom of the article.


On October 29, 1969, ARPAnet marked a historic moment with its inaugural transmission: a “node-to-node” exchange between two computers.

Housed in research labs at UCLA and Stanford, these computers, each the size of a small home, attempted to communicate.

The message, a simple “LOGIN,” proved significant but caused a system failure. The Stanford computer only managed to process the first two characters.

ARPAnet expansion

By the end of 1969, ARPAnet successfully connected four computers, but throughout the 1970s, its size expanded steadily.

In 1971, it incorporated the ALOHAnet network from the University of Hawaii, followed by the inclusion of networks from the Royal Radar Establishment in Norway and University College in London two years later.

However, as the number of packet-switched computer networks grew, it became increasingly challenging for them to converge into a unified global “internet.”

In the late 1970s, computer scientist Vinton Cerf embarked on addressing this challenge by devising a method to facilitate communication among all computers across various mini-networks worldwide. He named his invention “Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol,” or TCP/IP.

On January 1, 1983, ARPANET implemented TCP/IP, marking the beginning of the assembly of the “network of networks” that would eventually evolve into the modern internet.

Also read: African internet outage was caused by subsea cable break

Web evolution

In 1991, the internet underwent another significant change with the introduction of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee. This transformation turned the internet into the easily accessible information network we know today.

The World Wide Web offers a more robust and intuitive user experience. Through the use of hyperlinks, users can easily navigate between documents on the web with just a single click.

The web has evolved significantly over time, incorporating interactive elements such as audio, video, and photos. In the mid-1990s, companies like Yahoo and paved the way for successful web-based businesses. As the 2000s unfolded, full-featured online applications like Google Docs and Yahoo Maps emerged, further enhancing the web’s functionality and user experience.

Pop quiz

What message was exchanged between the two computers during ARPAnet’s inaugural transmission?

A. “Hello”

B. “Goodbye”


D. “Logout”

The correct answer is at the bottom of the article.

Importance of internet

In current world, the internet is a necessary tool that makes communication easy, gives access to a wealth of information, and serves as a platform for social interaction, education, business, and entertainment.

Its significance in the modern world cannot be emphasised, as it has revolutionised almost every facet of our existence, including our ability to study and work, interact with others, and obtain basic services.

As we continue to rely on the internet for our daily activities, its role as a catalyst for innovation and progress will only continue to grow, shaping the future of society and the global economy.

The correct answers are c, b, c.


Sylvia Shen

Sylvia Shen is an editorial assistant at Blue Tech Wave specialising in Fintech and Blockchain. She graduated from the University of California, Davis. Send tips to

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