13 November 2023

At the AIT Forum on the Histories of the Internet taking place on 9 January 2024 we will be leading a discussion on the Innovation and Implementation – Successes and Failures panel chaired by Robin Mansell.

We believe the ideas given below will provoke an interesting debate the evolution of the commercial exploitation of data networking technology.

Oaks from Acorns

The Internet is based on technologies derived from the concept of packet switching derived by Paul Baran in the United States and Donald Davies in the UK. These ideas, against prevailing telecommunications orthodoxy, were championed in the US by the Advanced Projects Research Agency and worldwide by engineers mainly employed by telecommunications authorities.

Against a background dominated by rapidly evolving technology, we trace the evolution of the commercial exploitation of data networking technology, starting with the transfer of information within a business. This evolved through automating information transfer between different businesses with common interests and then the devolution of information processing power, enabled by the High Street Network, permitted retail outlets to more directly harness IT in direct support of their customers. We examine how this led to an infrastructure that has made the direct business to customer commerce at scale possible.

‘Catalyst’ for the revolution

The initial UK public data networking proposition was migrated from the sale of capacity on an X.25 based service to a set of custom propositions built around IP based LAN services at the edge and a succession of high speed services in the core. We contend that UK providers adopted TCP/IP and Internet product strategies at a time when it became commercially advantageous, building on expertise accumulated in the field of corporate networking and a willingness to engage with new technologies such as Local Area Networks, Bridge Routers and Frame Relay.

We would argue that the reasons for the dominance of the Internet Protocols are not purely technical nor are they driven by Wide Area Networking considerations alone; indeed it is our contention that in the corporate space it was the need for higher speeds, coupled with the development of local area networking technologies and commercial strategies that led to the move away from X.25 which was the established approach of PTTs, towards TCP.

Radical Evolution

To change this approach there needed to be not just a revised technological perspective, but changes in operational and commercial outlook; often the need for a different approach is apparent, but how to execute it is harder to identify. So just how did the network providers adapt their approach?

The requirements of customers created new market needs arising from the influence of developments in local area networks (LANs) and IT, coupled with the diffusion of Internet and other nascent technologies. These required network portfolios to evolve to address market needs; the role of skills, closeness to the customer and the market and a new approach to defining and offering services.

We identify how this radical evolution proceeded in an environment, where the mother organisation had to adapt to a new, ever changing, privatised market place and the proposition in question initially had limited financial impact, but grew to assume far greater commercial significance.

See the full programme

Book your ticket(s)

Speaker and panellist biographies

Related Blog:

The Coming AI Tsunami – John Handby


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