Developed by the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) in 1969, the Internet may have been the first packet-switched network. But the first commercial packet-switched network was from Telenet Communications Corp, which emerged six years later. With its introduction, companies for the first time had an economically feasible way to offer employees and business partners remote access to corporate computers for everything from order entry to e-mail.
The Internet and Telenet share much of the same technology -- both were invented by Larry Roberts, heralded as "the founder of the Internet".
Roberts began Telenet -- the first successful data communications carrier -- after leaving ARPA in 1973. "People were telling me [packet switching] wouldn't be commercially successful, and I wanted to prove them wrong," he says. He borrowed a lot of code from the Internet, then called Arpanet, but had to develop a standard interface: the widely used X.25.
Most of Telenet's customers were nationwide time-sharing services. Next came companies like General Motors Corp.
The company grew rapidly and hit the $US60 million mark in 1979, when Roberts sold it to GTE Corp. Sprint Corp later acquired the business and continues to offer packet switching-based services; however, it uses the Internet for the main transport. As the Internet becomes faster and more reliable, Roberts predicts that commercial private networks will fade. "Commercial private services are bigger than the Internet in terms of equipment sales, but [Internet] traffic is much bigger," he says. "It won't pay to run any other network."