Major Events in The History of Computer Networks

Various influential people have contributed to the development of computer technology over many decades. This article describes the most significant breakthrough events in the history of computer networking.

Invention of the Telephone (and the Dial-Up Modem)

Computer and telephone modem from the 1960s. H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock / Getty Images

Without the availability of voice telephone service invented in the 1800s, the first waves of people flocking to the Internet would not have been able to get online from the comfort of their homes. Interfacing a digital computer to an analog phone line to enable transmitting data over this network required a special piece of hardware called the dial-up modem.

These modems existed since the 1960s, the first ones supporting an incredibly low data rate of 300 bits (0.3 kilobits or 0.0003 megabits) per second (bps) and only slowly improving over the years. Early Internet users commonly ran over 9,600 or 14,400 bps links. The well-known "56K" (56,000 bps) modem, the fastest possible given the limitations of this type of transmission media, wasn't invented until 1996.

Rise of CompuServe

S. Treppoz Named President of AOL and CompuServe in France (1998)
S. Treppoz Named President of AOL and CompuServe in France (1998). Patrick Durand / Getty Images
CompuServe Information Systems created the first online community of consumers, long before well-known Internet service providers such as America Online (AOL) came into existence. CompuServe developed an online newspaper publishing system, selling subscriptions starting in July 1980, accessed by consumers using their low-speed modems to connect. The company continued to grow throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, expanding to add public discussion forums and accumulating more than one million customers. AOL bought CompuServe in 1997.

Creation of the Internet Backbone

Efforts by Tim Berners-Lee and others to create the World Wide Web (WWW) starting in the 1980s are well-known, but the WWW would not have been possible without the underlying foundation of the Internet network. Among the key people who contributed to the creation of the Internet were Ray Tomlinson (developer of the first email system), Robert Metcalfe and David Boggs (inventors of Ethernet), plus Vinton Cerf and Robert Kahn (creators of the technology behind TCP/IP. More »

Birth of P2P File Sharing

Shawn Fanning (2000)
Shawn Fanning (2000). George De Sota / Getty Images

A 19 year-old student named Shawn Fanning dropped out of college in 1999 to build a piece of software called Napster. On 1 June 1999, the original Napster online file sharing service was released on the Internet. Within a few months, Napster became one of the most popular software applications of all time. People all over the world regularly logged into Napster to freely swap music files in the MP3 digital format.

Napster was the leader in the first wave of new peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing systems, turning P2P into a worldwide movement that generated billions of file downloads and legal actions costing millions. The original service was shut down after a few years, but later generations of more advanced P2P systems like BitTorrent continue to operate on both the Internet and for applications on private networks.

Cisco Becomes the World's Single Most Valuable Company

Cisco Systems To Lay Off Over 5,000 Workers
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Cisco Systems has long been recognized as a leading producer of networking products, best known for their high-end routers. Even back in 1998, Cisco boasted multi-billion dollar revenues and employed more than 10,000 people.

On 27 March 2000, Cisco became the world's most valuable company based on its stock market valuation. It's reign at the top didn't last long, but for that brief period during the dot-com boom, Cisco represented an explosive level of growth and interest that businesses all across the field of computer networking enjoyed at the time.

Development of the First Home Network Routers

Linksys BEFW11S4 - Wireless-B Broadband Router
Linksys BEFW11S4 - Wireless-B Broadband Router.

The concept of computer network routers dates back to the 1970s and earlier, but the proliferation of home network router products for consumers began in the year 2000 with companies like Linksys (later acquired by Cisco Systems but an independent company at that time) releasing the first models. These early home routers utilized wired Ethernet as the primary network interface. However, even in early 2001, the first 802.11b wireless routers like the SMC7004AWBR appeared on the market, starting the expansion of Wi-Fi technology into networks worldwide.

More From Us