The Evolution of Internet Speeds: From Dial-Up to Fiber Optic

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Early on, a lot of people believed that the internet was merely a gimmick that wouldn’t have much impact on the future of mankind. They believed that it would come and go (like Tamagochis and numerous other trends in the 90s).

While it’s easy to laugh them off retroactively, at the time, this wasn’t such an impossible future to miss. After all, the speeds were incredibly low, the internet didn’t have as much content, and there weren’t too many people out there to connect with.

If they could see the internet of today, even the biggest skeptics of the time would sing a different tune.

Now, in order to understand and acknowledge this path that the technology of the internet has traversed, here’s a brief rundown from dial-up to fiber optic.

1.   Dial-up connection

This initial stage of the internet became iconic during the 90s. The speeds were slow, and the noise of connection (although now seen as nostalgic) used to drive people crazy.

The speed was limited to 56 Kbps, which made browsing agonizing. Of course, people’s tolerance was much higher. Today, if the page doesn’t load in two seconds, you lose about half of your audience. It’s also worth mentioning that, in the beginning, there wasn’t so much multimedia on websites. Using dial-up with today’s internet wouldn’t be the same thing. 

The biggest downside of dial-up connections was that the line was always busy when it was in use. This would cause a major household problem. And so many ’90s kids were grounded on account of this.  Likewise, many online games were lost due to one of the household members picking up the phone.

The thing about this “golden age” of the digital world is that, through the lens of nostalgia, it looks a lot better than it really was. Everyone remembers the iconic Windows 98 logo, but not many people remember how long it took for a photo to load on dial-up or how long your computer took to boot back in the day.

Therefore, although a vital step in this process of internet evolution, this connection belongs to the past.

2.   The introduction of DSL

Another major step on this path was the DSL revolution. This was the first “modern” broadband internet, and its major advantage was that it was distributed through the phone line cable, like its predecessor.

The major advantage of this was that the platform already had a pre-existing infrastructure. All that the user had to do was negotiate with their internet service provider and have it delivered to their home.

The difference in speed was incredible. Instead of Kbps, the speed soon reached Mbps.

This is when you finally saw the real rise of competitive video gaming, early streams, and similar phenomena. This was also when websites started introducing more multimedia to their channels, and video formats really picked up in popularity.

With more stuff to do online, more people started going online. This meant more customers, a larger user base, and developers had more interest in actually developing the infrastructure. Sure, today, this technology may seem retro (even though there are a lot of people who still use it); however, without it, there wouldn’t even be a conversation about fiber optic vs. broadband.

3.   Time for cable internet

The technology was pretty similar to that of DSL, but with one major difference – it was delivered via the infrastructure used by cable companies, not phone companies. It meant that, since the technology was newer (which also meant that the infrastructure was newer), the internet provided was more reliable, the speeds were higher, etc.

The speed of cable internet is usually between 20 Mbps and 100 Mbps; however, it can reach 1,000 Mbps. In a way, its speeds are comparable to satellite internet.

To this day, the majority of the population uses this sort of internet in their homes. Sure, routers have WiFi, but the way this network comes to your home or your coffee place is via cable internet.

While more and more people are switching to fiber internet, it is still not available in most regions. The simplest way to explain this is to say that when cable TV was huge, everyone introduced it to their homes. This meant that they already had an infrastructure to begin with when they started distributing the internet this way. With fiber internet, the infrastructure has yet to be built, which means that it will start with massive urban areas.

Also, since it belongs to cable companies, these have a pretty easy time making bundles and special offers. This provides incredible value for the user and still makes money for the company. It’s really hard to compete with that.

4.   Fiber internet

State-of-the-art fiber internet is the newest, fastest, and most reliable type of internet connection. Its only flaw is that it’s not present in many areas. This is bound to happen at some point, but for the time being, if you’re privileged enough to have this internet in your area, you should definitely take it. If not, find the next best option and arm yourself with patience.

The speeds of fiber internet usually range from 250 Mbps to 10 Gbps.

This type of connection is so fast because it’s delivered via an optic cable. Light travels much faster than sound or electricity, which is why light impulses sent through this cable are much faster, and there’s not much lost in transit, either.

We’ve also mentioned this already, but the fact that the technology is newer also means that the infrastructure is newer. Not only that, but the manufacturing technology (of cables and everything else) has drastically improved over the past few decades (which is when all the competitor infrastructure was set). This also makes quite a difference when it comes to the reliability and resilience of the network.

Wrap up

Of course, this is only part of the list. There is also mobile internet to consider, the development of which would take an entire blog post. The topic of 5G wireless internet is bound to complement fiber internet and bring the world into the total new age of internet speeds. Satellite internet is another great option for those planning to live in remote areas but still enjoy high-speed internet. Still, the above-listed route is the one that the majority of urban households took.

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