The Net celebrates a 'major milestone'

The Net celebrates a 'major milestone'

Earlier this month it was the Internet's 30th birthday. Well, maybe it was. That depends on the meaning of the word "Internet".

Professor Leonard Kleinrock is one of several contending "fathers" of the Internet. Back when I was a mere graduate student, in the '60s, Kleinrock was a lead architect of the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network - the ARPAnet.

Kleinrock says the Internet was born with the installation of the ARPAnet's first Interface Message Processor (Imp) in his lab at the University of California at Los Angeles on September 2, 1969.

ARPAnet Imps were packet-switching minicomputers, pre-Cisco routers developed at Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), in Massachussetts. BBN, since merged into GTE, which will unfortunately soon likely be merged into Bell Atlantic, thinks the Internet was born earlier and elsewhere.

There are also post-ARPAnet people who say the Internet was not born until the ARPAnet's protocols were replaced by TCP/IP in 1983. Others think the Internet is the World Wide Web, which was born with Netscape circa 1995. I think the Internet was born in 1973 with the invention of the Ethernet (CSMA/CD) LAN and the Internet (TCP/IP) WAN. And so on.

But hey, there's enough credit to go around. Professor Kleinrock, thank you, congratulations, and happy 30th!

On this occasion, and because we're more interested in the future than the past, let's explore some possibilities for the Internet's next 30 years.

Plumbing. Cable television modems and Digital Subscriber Lines are interim. Optical fibres and switches will be deployed in the Internet's backbones, in local access, and in homes. The always-on high-speed all-optical Internet, and an auxiliary mobile wireless overlay, will also be deployed into any office or school buildings that might be left.

Space. During the next 30 years, we'll be going to Mars and beyond. The Internet will be going with us. Vint Cerf, another Internet father, is already working on the Interplanetary Internet. I'm organising a conference about space computing, ACM1, which is to be in San Jose, California, USA, Earth, in 2001. Cerf will be speaking there.

Travel. We've barely started substituting communication for transportation. Commuting and business travel will decline in favour of Internet telepresence. Fewer Willy Lomans. Let's wire up our homes and stay there.

Shopping. I probably won't be around to see the Internet change what the front doors of our homes look like. But, Internet shopping will become so important that homes will be built with large drop boxes out front so that packages of atoms can be delivered without disturbing us. Packages of bits will in increasing numbers bypass the drop boxes and come into our homes directly over the Internet. Goodbye malls. Welcome back Main Street, as a place to socialise.

Learning. Our government-run schools are already in decline, and they've been losing learning share to television for decades now. The Internet will finish the job. We'll come to realise that schools are not buildings, but communities of learners. Instead of fighting unionised teachers to put the Internet inside schools, we'll be using the Internet instead of schools.

Internet pundit Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973. Send e-mail to or visit

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