AARNet looks back 20 years

Book launch celebrates two decades of Australian innovation

AARNet has commissioned and launched a book celebrating 20 years of the Internet in Australia.

It’s hard to put a hard and fast figure on the age of the Internet in Australia. Rather than a single moment, the Internet began as a series of events, headed up by some of the country’s most pioneering computing scientists.

In June 1989, however, the first international Internet connection was placed through a 56 kilobit per second satellite link that connected the University of Melbourne and the University of Hawaii. It the first known direct live overseas link with Australia. The same connection to the United States today is 200,000 times faster, operating at 10 gigabits (Gbps) per second.


Watch the 20 years of the Internet in Australia slideshow.

“The attitude was, we want to give this a go,” said AARNet chief executive officer, Chris Hancock, at a briefing to launch the book. He said that although the Internet has been about now for 40 years the work undertaken in Australia really spoke to the entrepreneurial spirit and ingenuity of computer scientists and researchers.

“In a strict mathematical sense it was 20 years [after the US] but I don’t think we were behind that far at all,” he said.

“There were a number of people who took risks and gambled in an era when they did not have the backing. That’s where the bravery comes in. These guys were really trying to push the boundaries.”

Hancock said that, like any disruptive technologies, there was no set plan of execution, but various milestones along the way have shaped the organisations. Perhaps the biggest milestone was the sale of the internet business to Telstra (then Telecom). Capacity requirements had more than trebled in the previous three years and AARNet was struggling to manage the resources the business required.

“The guys couldn’t keep pace with all the customer connections and that fed an insatitiable thirst for upgrades,” Hancock said. “The sale to Telstra was a key point in the progress of the organisation. In some ways I’m grateful because it means our remit is still research today.”

Although the book will not be for sale in regular bookstores, it will be available in libraries from December under ISBN: 978-0-646-52111-4.

Timeline

November 1992: The first Australian website was established and launched by Australian National University as an experimental server.

May 1994: AARNet opened its network up to value added resellers, including Internode, OzEmail and iiNet, to what are widely recognised as Australia’s first retail Internet Service Providers.

June 1995: AARNet’s main capital city backbone link was 2 Mbps. It connected at 256 Kbps in Northern Territory, 512 Kbps in Tasmania and to the international network at 4.5 Mbps.

November 1999: CSIRO became the first major organisation in Australia to implement a national VoIP service on AARNet’s backbone.

November 2009: AARNet serves more than one million users in Australia’s research, tertiary education and scientific sectors. AARNet continues to demonstrate its relevance and importance in promoting collaboration and innovation in Australia through its high-speed network, which will complement the advent of the National Broadband Network.

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