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The Internet is 30: A quick recap of the bigger picture

Over the past three decades we’ve seen the Internet grow from a fledgling ARPA experiment to a transformative force that brings people together, unlocks creativity, and underwrites a significant portion of the global economy. With the Internet celebrating its 30th birthday on 1 January 2013, we thought it might be worth looking back at some of the more significant milestones along the way.

In 1983, American computer scientists, Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, were part of the team that was working to create a way for computer networks to communicate with each other. Their efforts were successful, and the new Transmission Control Protocol (or TCP/IP as it became known) formed the underlying foundation of what would eventually become the Internet we have today.

The Internet at this early stage was very different to the one we have today. It was relatively small scale and there was no World Wide Web, email or social networking. In order to get to the stage where these things were possible, a few more steps had to be taken. Below are some Internet milestones over the past 30 years.

1983: Following years of research into data transmission, including ARPANET, the Internet is created to connect academic computers. A team, including Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, makes the breakthrough.

1991: The World Wide Web is introduced to the world, with Britain’s Tim Berners-Lee a leading figure in its development. Although the terms “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are often used interchangeably, they’re actually very different. The World Wide Web is essentially a service that runs on the Internet. One way to think of it is if the Internet is the network of roads (the infrastructure), then the Web is the car (the service you experience).

1992: Because the Internet relies on a system of unique Autonomous System Numbers (ASNs) and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, it quickly became clear that the allocation and registration of Internet number resources needed to be centrally managed. Occupying this role was the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), located in the US.

But as the Internet continued to grow, the need for this function to be carried out by regional organisations that were closer to the community using these resources became apparent, and thus Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) were born. Daniel Karrenberg, who co-founded RIPE, a collaborative forum for Internet coordination, went on to create the RIPE NCC. It was the world’s first RIR and originally looked after Europe, the Middle East, parts of Central Asia, and the northern half of Africa.

APNIC, the RIPE NCC’s counterpart in the Asia-Pacific region, also became operational in 1992. Over the years, the other regions followed suit, until there were the five RIRs we have today – with ARIN looking after the US, Canada, a number of Caribbean and North Atlantic islands, and the southern half of Africa, and Lacnic responsible for Latin America and some Caribbean islands. AFRINIC was the last to become operational in 2005, taking responsibility for Africa from ARIN and the RIPE NCC.

1998: ICANN was created to oversee the Domain Name System (DNS), Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and DNS management. This was also the year that Google was launched. Few could imagine that Google would soon come to be known in every corner of the world and be worth approximately €200 billion today.

2004: Although it wasn’t the first social network to enter the scene, 2004 saw the launch of Facebook, which revolutionised social networking and changed how many people used the web. Today Facebook has more than one billion users across the globe.

2007: This year saw the launch of the original Apple iPhone, a device that would kick-start a mobile revolution of smartphones that depended on constant Internet connectivity. Smartphones have changed Internet usage patterns in a number of ways, with mobile Internet browsing, apps requiring data, and things like video streaming all possible. By 2012 there were more Internet-connected devices than people living on the planet.

2011: The long anticipated IPv4 exhaustion began. APNIC was the first RIR to exhaust its pool of IPv4 address space. The RIPE NCC would follow suit in 2012, underling the need to deploy IPv6 and safeguard the future growth of the Internet. You can read more about IPv4 and IPv6 in previous ITProPortal article.

2013: Internet connected devices took centre stage, with the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas dominated by smartphones, smart TVs and smart appliances.

This is only a small part of a much bigger story. Considering how much we’ve seen since the Internet’s humble beginnings in 1983, it’s exciting to think what the next 30 years will bring.

Axel Pawlik is the Managing Director of the RIPE Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC). Axel graduated from the University of Dortmund, Germany, with a Masters Degree in Computer Science. He was later employed at the University of Dortmund from 1985 to 1992, where he contributed to the establishment of UNIX networking as a publicly available service in Germany.