Listen to Internet

By Per E Dybvik


Computers connected in large global networks create a space, Cyberspace. The backbone of Cyberspace is the Internet, the world's largest computer network. Internet pilots advanced information services that are becoming an indispensible resource for a large number of users, both governmental institutions and commercial businesses. These services are different from those of the telecom administrations. This paper gives an overview of Internet and argues that the differences are due to different underlying philosophies and that we are witnessing a clash of cultures when the telecommunications and computer markets converge.

1 Introduction
2 What is Internet?
2.1 History
2.2 What does the Internet comprise?
2.3 The Internet services
2.4 OSI and Internet
2.5 Organisation of the Internet
3 Conflicting cultures
3.1 Packet switched vs. circuit switched
3.2 Videotex and World Wide Web
4 The future of Internet
4.1 Voice and audio communication
5 Conclusions

1 Introduction

The world's computer networks are constantly growing. Millions of users are connected in a matrix of computers making the visions of William Gibson's Neuromancer come closer. Company private networks, research and university networks, BBS networks and other computer networks are being linked.

The backbone of this complex network of computers is the Internet. The Internet is the largest computer network in the world. Internet pilots advanced information services which allow millions of users to communicate. Users may send messages to each other, search information databases, play multi-user games, and make new acquaintances.

Most computers on the Internet are found within the universities and research facilities, but the net is expanding into commercial businesses. The Internet has proved to be a computer network that has offered reliable and advanced information services. This fact is attracting interest, and for the last few years the Internet has become a meeting place for many governmental institutions and private companies. The Internet fulfils a need for advanced information services - services telephone companies around the world could not offer.

This paper will give an overview of the Internet; the history, they way it works, the services offered, and how it is organised.

Furthermore, some of the differences between the information services offered by telecom administrations and the ones we find within the Internet are discussed.

The last part of the paper looks at the future of the Internet.

2 What is Internet?

There is no clear answer to what the Internet is. The Internet may be viewed in terms of:

To many people, the Internet is known to be an anarchistic computer network where anyone can do whatever they like to do. To some extent this is right. Nobody owns the Internet, so nobody tells you what to do or what you should not do. Internet is a general infrastructure offering different information services and an arena for experiments of new services.

Internet is probably best known to be a term used to cover all the TCP/IP networks that are connected. This network offers services that let users access information, ask questions, talk to each other, play games and send letters. The Internet is providing a network that has become a valuable resource for millions of users as an information network and place for social gathering.

2.1 History

The history of the Internet started around 1969 when the US Defense Department began research on computer communication networks through their research agency, Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). They established the first four-node network in 1969 called the ARPAnet (later renamed the DARPAnet). The ARPAnet was an experimental computer network, a testbed for military usage. The aim was to build a network that could run even if parts of the network was damaged, e.g. bombed.

In the mid-seventies the TCP/IP protocols were developed for ARPAnet usage. Later, the ARPAnet was split into a military network and the network that we today know as the Internet. In 1981, Andrew S. Tanenbaum (11) wrote about Internet:

The Internet started taking off in 1988 when the US National Scientific Foundation (NSF) established the NSFnet. It was meant to be a super computing network, but turned into the backbone of the Internet.

Since then, the Internet has expanded dramatically. The number of computers on the Internet reached the first million in 1992. By October 1993 this number has increased to about 2 million computers. The figures (33) show an increase of about 100 % annually. The Internet is also expanding geographically. Currently, the number of countries connected has passed 80.

Norway was one of the first countries to connect to the Internet. In 1973, three computers in Norway got connected through a 9600 Baud line. This connection was replaced in 1980 by a packet-switched satellite connection (34). By August 1993, there were over 25,000 Internet nodes in Norway. This number gives Norway the highest density of Internet nodes in the world with over 5,000 computers per million people. This is about 25% higher than the US.

2.2 What does the Internet comprise?

The Internet is a network of networks (10)(12)(16). There are estimates showing that between 10,000 and 15,000 networks are included in the Internet. These networks are not connected to Internet, together they make up the Internet. The individual networks are run separately with their own system administrators, and are economically independent of each other. Each network pays for its own telecommunication lines, routers, and bridges.

Companies with their own Local Area Network (LAN) may connect to a regional or national Internet service provider. These service providers are offering services to interconnect company LANs, university campus networks, and also offer interconnection to international networks.

In Norway, Uninett AS, Telepost Communication, Datametrix and EUnet AS are offering IP services. TelePost Communication, a joint venture between the Norwegian Post Administration and Norwegian Telecom, offer commercial interconnection to Uninett and Swipnett. Uninett is connected to a Nordic Internet subnet called NorduNet. NorduNet is in turn connected to EBONE (European Backbone Internet) at the main host in Stockholm. EBONE offers several connections to the US (28).

The TCP/IP protocol suite is the fundamental that makes the computers all over the world talk to each other, independently of computer vendors. The foundation is the IP (Internet Protocol) (18) which routes the packets between different physical networks. Each computer connected to the Internet has a unique IP address. The IP protocol can run on most underlying connections like ISDN, X.25, Ethernet, Token Ring, Frame Relay, ATM, FDDI, and telephone lines.

One may argue that Internet is more than just the networks running TCP/IP. Services in Internet, like electronic mail, may reach out beyond the TCP/IP networks. Gateway functions make it possible to communicate with other networks not using the TCP/IP protocol suite. An electronic mail message may be routed from an Internet host through a mail gateway to a host connected to a network running other protocols.

2.3 The Internet services

The Internet offers a wide variety of services like electronic mail, file transfer, and bulletin boards. In fact, there is no overview of all the different services offered in the Internet. Most services found in the Internet are in the beginning only used on a small scale. As the services become known to the users in Internet, the services might develop into larger scale use. Some services never grow beyond a small group of users (7)(24)(25)(31).

The Internet can be compared to the traffic road infrastructure where the cars used in the infrastructure can be of every make from Unix workstations to PCs. Nobody asks you what you are doing on the road as long as you follow the rules. Nobody asks you what you are carrying and where you are going. You may start up a parcel delivery service to carry packages between Oslo and Trondheim. If one of the customers want that package to be sent to another place you might want some other parcel delivery company to do that for you. Then you have to gateway to that company by making the necessary arrangements.

The best known services in Internet are:

2.4 OSI and Internet

When Internet was established, the Open System Interconnection (OSI) reference model (8), from ISO, was not ready. Many companies and organisations have adopted OSI, but until implementations of OSI are available, they use TCP/IP as an interim solution.

Some OSI application protocols have been taken into use on the Internet. The CCITT X.400 electronic mail protocol is heavily used in the European part of the Internet. Electronic mail gateways ensure smooth interworking of X.400 and SMTP (30).

Internet has assigned several working groups inside IETF (see below) to investigate the interconnection of Internet protocols and OSI.

2.5 Organisation of the Internet

The organisation and development of the Internet has been carried out in different ways throughout the last twenty years. The enormous growth of the Internet has forced it to become more formal in the way it is organised. In 1992 the Internet Society (ISOC) was formed as a non-profit organisation to ensure further development of technical standards and foster a continued growth and evolution of the Internet. Underneath the ISOC is the Internet Activities Board (IAB) which has the responsibility for the overall technical development of the Internet. The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) ensures that the long-term solutions are taken care of, while the Internet Engineering Task Force is handling the short-term development.

The IETF consists of volunteers who want to contribute to the standardisation of new protocols and services in the Internet. The IETF is split into different technical areas. Currently, these areas are:

The Internet Registry (IR), housed at the Defense Data Network (DDN) Network Information Center (NIC), is responsible for the administration and registration of the numerical addresses of networks and host computers (23). Another assignment authority is the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which assigns socket numbers, port numbers, etc. (22).

The standardisation of the protocols and other Internet technology is informal and different from the formal procedures of the standardisation bodies like ITU (International Telecommunication Union) or ISO (International Standardisation Organisation). The work of the IETF working groups are primarily done electronically and at the IETF meetings (3 meetings a year). Everyone contributing to the standardisation as a participant at a meeting or making comments on-line, is considered a member of the working group. The working group operates for approximately 9-18 months. After the working group has finished, the result is sent to the IAB for approval. The result is submitted as a draft-RFC (Request For Comments) for a brief public review (3). When it is approved it becomes a standard RFC and given a number.

3 Conflicting cultures

The telephone companies have long traditions of offering reliable and secure services. They are managing large and complex telephone networks. Their main focus has been voice communication services in the analogue telephone network. The telecoms have also played a major role in the establishment of a large number of computer networks by providing services like leased lines and X.25.

For the telecoms there has been a clear distinction between the computer networks, known as data communication, and the telephone networks. In the telephone network the users are offered end-user services like telephony and fax. On the data communication side, the customers - primarily businesses and governmental institutions - are offered services on a much lower level e.g. X.25 and Frame Relay.

The end-user services offered in the analogue telephone network and in ISDN are quite different from those offered in the Internet and in other computer networks. Computer networks have so far only considered asynchronous information services, while the telephone network has primarily offered voice communication services.

The distinction between data communication and telephony is disappearing as new digital technology is being introduced.

The distributed architecture of a computer network with general purpose computers is different from the more centralised telephone network. The packet switched architecture, found in many computer networks, opens up for a flexible way of introducing new services.

Why does it take years to implement an apparently simple service as a wake-up call into the telephone network ? To a computer programmer it seems quite simple, as it can be implemented with a few lines of code. The reason seems clear when we get to know that the software inside a telephone switch consists of several million code lines. All that code is fitted into a single proprietary telephone switch.

You will not find the same open systems philosophy among the telecom switch vendors as you will in the computer industry.

But telephone companies are changing their network architectures by introducing Universal Personal Telephony (UPT) and Intelligent Networks (IN). UPT and IN will attach numbers and services to a person, not to the terminal. The distributed architecture of UPT and IN will be very much like the architecture of computer networks.

Another clash of cultures have been seen on the end-user side between the computer industry and the telecom terminal vendors (13). The telecoms have had a tradition of making dedicated terminals with no other purposes than to support a single service, e.g. telephones, fax machines, and videophones. With the introduction of desktop computers this is changing. Computers are able to integrate video, audio, images and text - in fact they are able to handle telecommunication services like videophony, telephony, and fax in parallel (14)(15).

3.1 Packet switched vs. circuit switched

The introduction of packet switched technology in the Internet was a turning point. It brought with it aspects that changed the way people thought of information communication. Packet-switched technology was not only able to optimise performance on network level, it also introduced end-user services that could not be offered in circuit switched networks. Packet switching allows the information to be passed as small packets in the network.

Advantages of packet switched networks (1):

Disadvantages of packet switched networks:

3.2 Videotex and World Wide Web

The videotex service of French Telecom, called Minitel, has undoubtedly become a success. A large number of French households are currently using the service. The widespread use of the service is much due to France Telecom's policy of providing the terminals free of charge.

Videotex has not become the same success in other countries (6). In Norway there is a similar service: Datatorg. By mid-1993 the Norwegian Telecom's Datatorg had about 7,500 users - very few of them in households.

There are many reasons why the videotex has been a failure. The technology, developed in the 1970s, was apparently not designed to be used by general computers. No wonder why, since the affordable personal computer did not exist. Videotex was designed to be accessed by dedicated terminals with no other purpose than supporting that service. The main problem with the service was that there was no clear separation between the network, protocol, exchange format, terminal and the presentation. The user was not given any opportunity to customise a solution for his own need. The service determined the way the information should be presented and the way the user should interact with the service.

It is not fair to compare new services like the World Wide Web (WWW) with videotex even though they fulfil the same objective - to make information accessible to users over a network. Videotex was developed in the 1970s, while WWW has been developed over the past few years. The development of WWW is based on packet switched technology with an aim of presenting the information on a wide range of general purpose computers with graphical user interface capabilities.

4 The future of Internet

From the very beginning the Internet has been financed by governmental institutions. The US National Research and Education Network (NREN) programme, a part of the High Performance Computing Act, was initiated in 1991. A part of the NREN programme was to upgrade the US Internet (primarily the NSFNET) to 45 Mbit/s. Vice-president Al Gore (email: has played a key role in these plans and also in the National Information Infrastructure Act of 1993 (NII) (2) (34) (4).

The success of the Internet is much due to governmental subsidies. Without the subsidies there probably would not be an Internet. The government plans to withdraw its subsidies to make users pay for the service themselves. Together with the fact that Internet opens up for commercial businesses, the financial structure will change. Internet is becoming interesting to commercial businesses because it can provide content. Many information providers have established themselves on the Internet and provide information and services that are becoming interesting outside the research and university communities (29).

AT&T has recently announced that they will offer Internet services. PSI has announced Internet over their cable network by mid-1994. US carriers Sprint and MCI already offer such services; British Telecom and France Telecom have announced commercial Internet services. In Norway, three Internet providers entered the market in 1993 (9).

There is reason to believe that Internet will expand into commercial businesses because businesses do not have other alternatives which can offer the same services.

4.1 Voice and audio communication

When President Clinton and Vice-president Al Gore visited Silicon Graphics in California earlier this year, their speeches were broadcast live on the Internet using video and audio.

The same system for audio and video transmission has been used to cover IETF meetings and also as a tool for researchers to communicate. The ESPRIT MICE project, where Norwegian Telecom Research is participating, is piloting Internet services for the communication of audio, video and shared workspaces.

The fact that you may now listen to the Internet is a threat to the telephone companies. When new digital network technology is introduced there is no technological barriers that prevent the Internet from communicating voice over a computer network.

5 Conclusions

The issue is not Internet vs. OSI, or some other technology. The issue is smooth interworking - information interworking.

It will get increasingly important to be able to communicate information across networks with different functionality and bandwidth, between different terminal equipment, and between users with different needs. The challenges of the future is to make all networks, computers, terminals, and services to co-exist.

The information services used on the Internet have proved to be a success with millions of users. There are reasons to believe that these information services will expand into other areas, both at home and in businesses. An increasingly larger part of the population are gaining skills and needs for such services as they are going through universities and other educational institutions.


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All RFCs are available online at ftp site

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