A very common question that has been around since its advent has been “how does the internet work?” The internet is a broad term that resonates with people from all walks of life and is a vast source of entertainment and academic materials for people everywhere. It can be used to send emails, work at a desk job, or play games with people on the other side of the world. The internet exists as a separate industry that links together so many verticals and sectors that cannot imagine functioning or are quite redundant without it. The world wasn’t always this way though. It only took about two decades from when you could say “hey everyone” before we could say “the internet”. Although the internet has become indispensable to us, many of us still have no understanding of how it works. And that is exactly what we are going to explore in this article.
Firstly, the internet can be divided into three major parts.
The First and The Last Mile:- The Internet’s “first and the last mile” is the link between your ISP(Internet Service Provider) and your location. It is the final and first link in a lengthy chain of connectivity that is the worldwide Internet. All our instant messages, all the apps we use, the notifications we receive, and in fact almost everything we do these days relies on the internet. The first and last mile therefore includes all of Wifi, routers, and even the cell phone connectivity in our home. All of this wireless technology makes use of radio waves to transmit data into and out of the internet. Let’s take an example.
Assume you are sending an e-mail attachment. What happens after you hit the send button is simple enough to understand- the attachment is split into little parts and placed in an “envelope”. Each envelope has a header, providing information about where it’s from, and where it is going. Each header follows a set of rules, which can be compared to the norms of the online postal system- everything on the internet gets packed, delivered, and received.
The computer understands only binary language, and everything you send over the internet is a series of 0’s and 1’s, following the binary protocol. Remember the mail attachment? The same attachment gets converted into millions of bits and bytes and then gets transferred to your router through radio waves.
You’re probably wondering how a radio wave is able to transport binary data. Assume it as a frequency wave: if you want to send “ 0 “, there will be a small wave, and whenever you want to transmit “ 1 “, there will be a different, or a larger wave.These waves are legible, and as long as the receiver can detect the frequency, it can determine whether it is a one or a zero.
Internet Hub:- Ever wondered where the wires from the back of the router end up? These cables coming out of the back of your router link to other lines inside the house or office that are controlled by Internet Service Provider (ISPs). These ISP’s are responsible for looking at the header and figuring out the most efficient route to its next destination- an internet hub. It is a place where all the internet operators exchange traffic.
The Internet Backbone:- Your email now has become a sequence of frequencies that flows through the internet’s lines. How can we send the same email to someone on the opposite side of the globe? That task is accomplished through the use of Submarine Cable Providers. They simply install fiber optic cables under the bed of the ocean that connects countries, continents, and islands. The Map below depicts the world’s linked internet fiber cables.
So, what if one of the fiber cables becomes unplugged or damaged? This sometimes does happen, actually. In Tonga, an oil tanker damaged an internet cable, causing the Internet to be unavailable for 13 days in the entire region. The shutting down of the internet and its services caused almost official work to come to a stop, not to mention a social isolation unlike any other descended over the region. The 13 days it took to recover the Internet connectivity caused the economy to take a huge blow.
So, If you reside in one of the highly linked areas, such as India, the United States, or any other part of the world, it is quite improbable that an anchor severing a portion of your internet cable will disrupt your service. But what occurred in Tonga highlights how vital this infrastructure is and how much we rely on it. Despite how important the Internet is in today’s demography, many people still do not have consistent internet connectivity.
It’s vital to note that around 40% of the world’s entire population is still offline. That is because the internet is still costly! The cost of the Internet is seen below. The pink represents the low cost. The darker the country, the more the people there pay for internet access.
The entire world is bracing itself for speedier internet connection and to keep up, the internet has evolved today to the 5G network. What exactly is 5G though, and how is it so fast? Now, remember those radio waves? One of the most significant 5G advancements is the ability to use higher frequency waves, because they allow more information to be packed into each wave. 5G must be able to reach us wirelessly no matter where we are, which means they will require a lot more physical infrastructure. Of course, new infrastructure is expensive and the incentives that companies have to adopt 5G technology is the same as any other profit maximising vision. Cities, not rural locations. Wealthy communities, not impoverished ones.
5G might be an interesting method to increase internet service for consumers who currently have fast access, but, because of the technology required, it is doubtful that it will be able to assist those who do not have it.How are today’s tech giants addressing the issue of a fast and secure internet connection still being inaccessible in places across the world?
Using radio waves, modern technology propels balloons into the stratosphere to offer internet access to individuals on the ground. Loon, of whom Google is the parent company, uses balloons and stratospheric winds to get to its next location. Loon places a ground station in a vantage point from which it can view the sky. From there, it may communicate with one of the balloons after which the transmission and frequencies are received by our phones.
Many projects by big conglomerates such as Project Kuiper by Amazon and Starlink by Space X are attempting to address this issue. These are all space or near-space systems that employ radio waves to connect people to the internet. That’s one reason why they’re unlikely to replace good old wires. Radio waves, laser light, and all of these other sorts of technology must, in the end, function together. (The near-space systems are a different story altogether, and that we will explore another day). Suffice it to say that it is not a smart idea to replace fiber cables or satellites. They are extremely complementary technologies and harnessing the energies of the vast uncharted space to make possible travel, or to solve the basic IT requirements of humans is still a working theory at best.
The internet is not, and should not, be an extravagance. We are looking at something that does more than simply provide a connection, and shouldn’t be priced at the rate of a luxury commodity. We are a member of this vast, vital, and at times vexing global society- a completely alternate virtual space that yields real causes and impacts. Consider this as you read the news, message a buddy, or watch a YouTube video the next time- our connections have never been virtual. They’re pretty tangible, and just because something exists in our minds is no reason why it should not be Real, is it?