From 5 Mbps to full fibre: the evolution of the internet and how broadband changed the world

In our globally connected society, it’s almost impossible to imagine a time when both the internet and broadband were merely ideas. Over five billion people use the internet daily. This affects virtually every aspect of our lives, be it business, entertainment, and even healthcare, relying on our ability to connect digitally.

But how did we get here? How did we jump from a time when the internet wasn’t publicly available, to outdated Victorian-age copper-based networks, right up to the gigabit speeds of full fibre?

In honour of our 20th anniversary, and as we continue to accelerate our full fibre rollout across rural East of England, we’re looking back at the history of internet communications and how its evolution pushed the boundaries of what we thought possible.  

Starting small

Image Credit: Matt Mech

You have to travel back almost half a century to see when the internet took its first baby steps. Before dial-up shook the world with its grating modem speakers, and certainly before someone had even said the word ‘Google’, there was USENET.

This was a primitive form of connecting computers and, while still using a phone modem, was far behind the technology dial-up internet used in the late 1990s.

USENET was also not as ‘public’ as the internet we know today. Mainly accessed by those working at major institutions or universities, its main role was to aid the exchange of messages and files for those in the working environment.

Roll up for dial up!

Image Credit: Miryam León

Fast forward a decade and the internet has already come a long way! Dial-up internet was released to the public, paving the way for the first internet service providers (ISPs) to take shape.

This was the starting gun for a huge array of websites that are now household names. Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, and Google all made their initial launch in the 90s thanks to the internet’s public release. Even early-day chat rooms had taken off thanks to dial-up, allowing people to share interests and advice and planting the seeds for the social media explosion that would soon follow.

Despite pioneering many ‘firsts’, dial-up had its limitations. Completely reliant on home telephone networks, families were forced to choose whether someone could browse the internet or make a simple phone call; not quite the multi-device connectivity we’re used to today if you have full fibre.

The arrival of broadband

Image Credit: Mollie Sivaram

Our home county of Essex had the first broadband connection in the UK in 2000. It boasted impressive speeds and the ability to split the signal between telephone and internet to allow users simultaneous access. Essex even pioneered the birth of radio back in the 1890s with the first ‘Radio Factory’ constructed in Chelmsford by Marconi.

The arrival of broadband was pivotal in the world of online entertainment, allowing people to download and share videos, pictures, music, and films at far greater speeds than was possible with dial-up.

Naturally, this birthed the internet’s most renowned social platforms including Facebook, YouTube, Reddit, LinkedIn, and even Wikipedia in the early 2000s.

Within the past decade, data demand has breached the capabilities of copper-based networks to usher in the age of fibre-optic broadband. Using pulses of light to transmit data, fibre cables offer a substantial leap in internet speed, capable of supporting the likes of multiplayer gaming and streaming, which have skyrocketed in popularity.

The age of full fibre

Image Credit: Brett Sayles

The 2010s uncovered a huge breakthrough in broadband technology. Previous models of fibre broadband were only able to connect as far as the green cabinets on the street and then had to rely on copper cables to connect from there to the premise; otherwise known as fibre-to-the-cabinet (FTTC).

Full fibre broadband, or fibre-to-the-premise (FTTP), removed the need for any copper-based connections and delivered fibre connectivity straight to the home or business in question.

Adopting FTTP was, at this point, well overdue. The UK had fallen behind in the race to full fibre compared to the likes of Spain and Japan, with an over-reliance on copper-based Superfast networks hindering our ability to take advantage of exciting new technologies.

Full fibre’s introduction paved the way to untold internet speeds. From ultrafast connections (100 Mbps or more) to hyperfast connections (500 Mbps or more) right up to gigabit speeds of over 1000 Mbps.

In the modern day, we’ve seen just how crucial robust and reliable broadband can be. Not only does full fibre support our ever-evolving digital world, providing seamless entertainment in streaming and gaming, it even made the Covid-induced surge of remote and hybrid working a painless transition that has unlocked immeasurable productivity across the nation.

It represents both the present and future, with the foreseeable future of AI, 8K streaming, and further integration of VR/AR tech all made possible with the support of 1 Gbps speed and reliability.

Having launched in 2003, we’ve seen first-hand the rapid evolution of the world of telecommunications and kept ourselves at the forefront of its pioneering technology.

That’s why we’re rolling out our full fibre networks across rural, hard-to-reach areas across the East of England following a combined £146 million private investment.

Find out if our network is already available in your area or if we’re planning to connect your village.

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