My first computer in high school was really just a glorified teletype machine, but I learned to program it with a series of commands through punched tape. It wasn’t until I arrived at the University of California at Berkeley in the early 70s that I got my first real indoctrination into the world of computers. During this time user-friendly PCs were still somewhat of a figment of the imagination so my first statistics class had us writing programs in huge trays of consecutively ordered punch cards. It was in this class that I first saw few fellow students fall into a blubbering mass of misery if their tray was accidentally knocked over or otherwise disrupted which rendered their program un-runnable. Having had that experience, I can truly appreciate the ease of today’s modern PCs and the immediate access to information all through a simple click of the mouse.
That being said, how does the Internet actually work? To oversimplify, picture a system of roadways that enable you to get from your home to the destination of your choosing. While you may need to access several local roads, main roads, or even the freeway, you will eventually reach your destination. The same is true for how data travels across the Internet; from your computer, to your local router, to a larger Internet provider (who has access to the backbone of the Internet), to another Internet provider where it jumps to their routers, and then finally to the router at your local destination.
Today our daily business interactions depend on a connection to the Internet, but in the beginning we really only needed access to AOL email, chat rooms and some work applications. We were jazzed when the old 14.4 baud modem was replaced by the twice-as-fast 28.8 baud modem. Remember the old dial-up access where you’d gain access to the Internet through a local phone number? Your PC seized your main phone line (since that was the avenue of transport then) and dialed away. Sometimes, if you were lucky, you’d actually connect on the first try! Often though you’d wait through one or more redial cycles before finally getting a connection. For basic applications the connection speed was tolerable, but for many large data applications it was painfully slow. Then phone companies started providing Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) access. To think, you could have your computer and your phone on the same number and use them both simultaneously! DSL granted much faster Internet access than the old dial-up modems, and was an improvement over the rarely adopted ISDN circuits which offered digital access but at a high cost.
However, in the business space, organizations were starting to move toward other dedicated technologies such as the T1 connection. This 24 channel aggregate circuit boasted the ability to have both Internet access (data) and phone line access (voice). You mostly had to dedicate the channels you wanted for each, or just make the whole thing voice or data. Each channel is a 56k throughput path so with 24 channels bonded together an end user had over 1.5 megabits per second of Internet access. This is about six times the access speed of the DSL circuit. In the early 90s, prices for these connections were astronomical so the T1 was limited to companies with deep pockets or those who had no choice but to pay the price. Some larger implementations leveraged several T1 circuits bonded together for even more bandwidth. But big business and webhosts still needed more and moved to T3 or T3 circuits; the latter being equal to 28 T1 lines or 44.736 megabits per second. For our purposes in the SMB space, T1 was largest product used.