If you’re a business owner in London, the chances are that you enjoy ultra-fast business broadband from providers such as PlusNet, EE, or Talk Talk. Company communication has never been quicker, and data has never been more secure. What’s more, with the increased use of cloud computing technologies, information can be stored and accessed from anywhere - and operations are no longer hindered by slow internet speeds.But it wasn’t always this way. While the nation’s capital may now be an interconnected hub of digital activity, rewind the clock a few years, and it was a very different story. If you’re interested in finding out how London became the digital capital of the UK, read on.

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London’s internet demand

As the capital of the UK, London has always been at the forefront of internet pioneering action — and internet usage too.

In 1998, just 9% of households in the UK had internet access. However, by 2019, this grew to an astonishing 93%. In July 2022, it was found that approximately 6.77 million people in London used the internet in the past three months.

The early years of London’s internet

In 1972, internet pioneers Donald Davies, Derek Barber and Roger Scantlebury joined the INWG (The International Networking Working Group). This group of researchers from the UK and the USA committed to investigating protocols from computer networking.

Just a year later, Peter Kirstein, a British computer scientist, led a research group at University College London that made an international connection to the ARPANET. ‘ARPANET’ (or Advanced Research Project’s Agency Network) was the first wide-area packed-switch network to implement the TCP/IP protocol — making it foundational in the establishment of the internet.

At this point, just 40 academic and governmental computers used this network. From here, though, JANET (a network connecting universities across the UK) could also be launched. In 1976, the Queen herself sent an email on March 26 while visiting the Royal Signals and Radar Establishment in Malvern. 

An office is filled with large, desktop computers from the 1990s

Domain names & the World Wide Web

In 1985, the .UK domain name was created, much to the annoyance of Jon Postel at UCLA, who campaigned for .gb to match car number plates. Then, in 1991 a breakthrough occurred with the introduction of the World Wide Web, after which websites could be navigated easily using hyperlinks.

For this to occur, the HTML and HTTP protocols were created to allow users to navigate the online space by clicking links like this.

In order for this to occur, the HTML and HTTP protocols were created in order to allow users to navigate the online space by clicking links, like this.

While this was created by Tim Berners-Lee from CERN in Switzerland, there were many links with London during this process. For example, BT (British Telecommunications) started to use the WWW in 1991 under their Oracle Alliance Programme. In July of that year, access to the internet was implemented through the work of network engineers. This saw a central link established from Ipswich to London, which gave access to the Internet backbone. Through this link, the first file transfers were made in October of 1991 via a NeXT-based WWW interface.

After this foundational breakthrough, it became much more accessible for London-based corporations to ‘get online’. The Telegraph, for example, launched its first edition of the ‘Electronic Telegraph’, making it the first newspaper online in 1994.

Not long after this, Brunel University London was used to grant the BBC internet access after it registered with the DDN-NIC (Defence Data Network - Network Information Centre). This led to the creation of the website bbc.co.uk in 1994. At this point in time, universities had to ‘host’ the internet.

To find out more about the internet in the capital, visit the online interactive connectivity map here.

An image of London at night is covered in white arches showing the connections between buildings

London internet since 2006

Since 2006, the internet in London has changed significantly. For one, the market of internet and telecommunications providers was overturned, with new core players getting involved and offering broadband too. In 2006, for example, TalkTalk began to offer their customers free broadband if they purchased a telephone package. Orange followed suit with a similar ‘free’ broadband for mobile customers. Then, in October 2011, Hyperoptic launched their 1 Gbit/s FTTH across London, with other areas such as Bournemouth and Milton Keynes following shortly after. In 2015, BT revealed their universal 5-10 mbit/s broadband, and also rolled out the 500 Mbit/s G.Fast. This aimed to push ultra-fast speeds to up to 10 million homes using the landline cables already in place. This, however, was paused in 2019 by Openreach and their Fibre campaign. That being said, even in 2015 some highly-developed areas of London, like Aldgate, saw consumers limited to speeds of up to 8 Mbit/s for ADSL services - which had a knock-on effect on the rental market, as limited broadband made tenants reluctant to sign leases.  Fast forwarding to the 2019 General Election, though, Boris Johnson pledged full fibre for the entirety of the UK by 2025, and work towards this goal has already begun. As of May 2020, 96.9% of UK households can enjoy ‘superfast broadband’ (or 30 Mbit/s), and 19.29% of households are able to receive gigabit speeds.

Enjoy business IT support with ITRM

Now we’ve learnt about the history of London’s internet, how about we make the most of it? If you’re a business owner in London and could benefit from Network Cabling, Cloud Computing, or Communications services, contact our friendly team of experts today.

Or, for more general information about London and its technology, head over to our blog


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