Tag Archives: communications

The early history of packet switching in the UK

Read an excellent article the other week in the IEEE’s Communications Magazine on the UK’s contribution to early packet switching and what would evolve into Ethernet and the Internet.

At the moment you have to be an IEEE member to view the article, however it’s an excellent piece, especially for those interested in the history of communications and technology, as well as the UK’s contribution to the field.

I was particularly interested to read about the barriers the UK teams had, especially when it came to support from the UK communications and technology ecosystem of the time and the incumbent Government. Despite the gap in time some of the issues were surprisingly similar to those present today.

Here’s the abstract from the IEEE site:

In this issue of the History Column we bring you an article by Prof. Peter Kirstein, one of the original contributors to early packet switching. We are probably all familiar with the history of the Internet, beginning with its genesis in the American-developed ARPAnet of the late 1960s and early 1970s. We may be less familiar with the contributions of British researchers, as well as those in other countries such as France, at about the same period of time, who worked closely with American researchers as well as independently in developing the packet-switching technology so fundamental to the Internet. Prof. Kirstein recounts the early activities by British engineers, led by Donald Davies of the National Physical Laboratory, the British Post Office, those of his own group at University College London, and others as well. He also ties this work into ongoing activities in the United States at the time. In future History Columns we plan to have similar articles by U.S. packet-switching pioneers on their own early activities in the field. This series of articles on the genesis of the Internet should be of great interest to all communication engineers. We commend the article following to your attention.

For those not in the IEEE, who are thus excluded from reading this excellent article, the BBC has a nice online piece about the UK’s contribution to early packet switching technology, with particular reference to British mathematician Dr. Donald Davies at the UK’s National Physical Laboratory (NPL), accompanied by some nice video clips too.