Science and Tech


Where Does The Internet Come From?

The internet is a network of networks — clusters of computers and servers all connected to each other to send information worldwide.
Posted at 4:38 PM, Jul 30, 2016

The internet: We use it every day, for everything from gaming to news to binging cat videos. But despite the ease of access from just about anywhere these days, it's not a magic information field.

So where does it come from? There isn't one big room that hands out bandwidth.

Instead, the internet is a network of networks. It links all of the individual servers, computers and devices across the planet. More and more of our communications — and all of our websites — live there and travel across it.

For most home users, internet access starts at an internet service provider, or ISP. Some ISPs buy their own service from even larger ISPs. At the top of the stack are the Tier 1 providers.

SEE MORE: Gigabit Internet Is Still Almost Uselessly Fast — For Now

These huge networks connect to one another with the help of underwater data cables. They're what make the internet global.

Not everything travels across those cables every day, though. Companies like Netflix and Google run their own data centers, which connect to the rest of the network at boring buildings called internet exchange points.

If you're checking your email or streaming video, chances are it's coming through one of these exchange points and then through your ISP to you.

All told, it's a lot of traffic. The International Telecommunications Union estimates there were some 3.2 billion people online in 2015 sending around more than 20,000 gigabytes per second — and traffic is expected to triple by 2020. That's a lot of cat videos.

This video includes clips from The Wildlife Docs / CC BY 3.0FacebookTE ConnectivityGoogleNASA and Matthew Burton / CC BY 3.0 and images from Getty Images, The Opte Project / CC BY 2.5Edward Boatman / CC BY 3.0Marek Polakovic / CC BY 3.0 and John Arundel / CC BY SA 3.0.