The Internet over your phone

Of course you have the Internet on your phone. (Well, you probably do. Although sales of dumb phones are on the rise, so maybe you don’t.)

When we first had the Internet, we didn’t have the IEEE 802.11b Direct Sequence specification (for which Wi-Fi is the cute trademark) paradise we have today. Wi-fi is the communications technology that lets you send your data between devices — say from a network router to your laptop — without a physical wire connecting the two.

That means your phone can ping to announce the arrival of a new email without being umbilically attached to your router. Before Wi-Fi, we had wires. Before Broadband — a type of high-speed internet connection — we had narrowband. So if you wanted to check your email or search for something on the Internet, that meant making a conscious choice. You had to decide to reach that mystical space via your landline. To visit the Internet meant you had a serious purpose. It meant a dial-up modem. (Another cute little shorthand for Modulator / Demodulator.) One modem wire went into your computer. Another wire went into the wall.

All would be quiet. Then suddenly you’d hear the beepy, staticky noise as the serial modem attempted to make its connection with another modem far away. It negotiated its connection speed across the creaking telephone infrastructure that had been repurposed for this wondrous invention. That noise was The Noise of The Future. It was the analogue world reaching out to the digital through a bit of copper wire originally intended to carry nothing more than your voice. Not the Internet on your phone; the Internet over your phone.

After the beeps, you might actually be connected and then information could begin to crawl its way into your computer. That stuff was slow. Speeds of up to 56 kilobits per second! Download a picture? You could start, go and make a cup of tea, and be pleased if all of it had appeared by the time you got back. Something like iTunes would have taken several weeks to arrive. We used to rely on CDs stuck to magazine covers for the actual programs we wanted to install because your provider was probably going to charge you by the minute to be on the net. You got your email. You switched off again.

Nowadays, we measure our broadband speed of connection in megabits per second, not kilobits. Several hundred times faster. The UK Telecoms provider BT switched off dial-up services in 2013.


Dial-up is not quite extinct, though, and still has its fans. You can currently sign up for dial-up access with several providers who will only charge you for the cost of the call. If you like to go online for a paltry few minutes a month, that’s a bargain. Plus, you’re assigned a new IP address every time you log in so, if your favourite pastime is trolling, that gets you round any potential bans. You don’t get the modem music any more, but you can in several museums.

Thus, The Sound of The Future became the Sound of The (Not Quite) Past.

3 thoughts on “The Internet over your phone

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s