In short explanation of how does Internet work?

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Despite the vast use of Internet, there are still plenty of misconceptions about it among the same people who use it. Few beliefs like, Internet works on Satellites signals, it is owned by companies like Google or Microsoft, are quite common. Well, they are not entirely correct and one must bring this topic into light to erode the myths.

So, if not via satellite signals then how does internet work? A simple and straight forward answer is through complex system of submarine cables, routers, telecom towers and many more combination of Software, Hardware and Protocols.

In this article you will learn about functioning of Internet, data transmission mediums and protocols. You will also get to know if there is an owner of Internet.

Let’s begin with basics of internet and later we will discuss about its functioning.

What is Internet?

In simple words, Internet is network of interconnected computers (networks) enabled to communicate by sending and receiving data.

A lot of people think Internet and Web as single entity. But there is huge difference between Internet and Web. While Internet is network of connected computers, web is collection of data we access using internet.

Internet was started in 1960s as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) for U.S. Defense Department. Later, in 1983 ARPANET adopted some protocols like, TCP/IP and evolved as modern Internet.

How does Internet Work?

The whole setup of Network of Networks (Internet) works by sending/receiving data packets with some rules/protocols over the wired or wireless medium. We will discuss about data packets and protocols later. Let’s discuss how does the data packets transmission work on Internet.

Internet Data Transmission:

We use Internet to send and receive data. Data is first broken into data packets by TCP/IP protocols and travels through Submarine cables to reach the server located in some other countries. All the countries are connected by underwater submarine cables, buried in the sea bottom.

Submarine cable, en-laced with latest fiber-optic technology, fires laser beam at extremely rapid rate and data is transmitted with almost light speed.

In simple words, when you send some WhatsApp message or email, data is transmitted all the way through submarine cables to Server location and later it is routed back to targeted device.

So, if you send a text over WhatsApp to your friend sitting just beside you, the message will travel all the way to WhatsApp server in U.S. through submarine cables and then it will travel back to your friend’s phone.

Read More: What is 5G and how does it work?

Submarine cable network

Huwei Marine and Equinix sponsor a site, Submarine Cable Map, to display the geographical connection of countries using cables. They have also shared the source code and related data over GitHub page for public and noncommercial use. You can explore and create your own map as well.

If you are wondering why you can’t see these cables when you visit a beach, that is because these cables are buried deep in the ocean floor and usually opens at coastal areas not accessible for public.

Submarine Cable opened view

These cables encapsulate thousands of hair like fiber-optic units to transmit the data.

As per sources, there are almost 1.2 million kilometres of submarine cables connecting the globe and being managed by public and private companies. Primary owners of these Cables are Tier-1 Internet Service Providers (ISP) companies (Like Tata, Reliance Jio). They provide connectivity to Tier-2 and Tier-3 ISPs (like Airtel, Vodafone and Tikona) at recurring charges.

Tier-2 and Tier-3 companies like Vodafone, Airtel and Ooredoo buy the cable access and connect the submarine cables with their local telecom towers which ultimately connect us with internet.

By these facts, we can say internet is free and we pay only for cables, routers, network towers and other maintenance.

How long a submarine cable can function and what happens when it breaks?

Submarine cables are very durable and designed to last up to 25 years but usually decommissioned long before its expiry date because of upgraded cheap cables in the market.

 With so much advancement in fiber-optics, usually we receive the upgraded technology in the interval of every 5-10 years. With the new fiber-optics technology it is cheaper to handle much more load in lesser cost. Therefore, companies prefer to install upgraded Submarine Cables and abandon the older ones.

So, what happens to abandoned cables?

Earlier, Tier-1 companies used to leave them deep in the ocean after it was decommissioned but nowadays they have started bidding to pull it out for recycling.

Is it efficient to use Submarine Cables for data transmission?

Internet works via satellite signals also but, if we compare effective transmission cost per data packet, submarine cables are way cheaper than Satellite Internet communication. 

It is beyond the capacity of our current technology to send so much data via Satellite and it is much cheaper to channel that traffic via a wave guide (Cables) than to beam it into space and receive back. 

Although, submarine cables break and sometimes get eaten by shark and other sea creatures in shallow areas, maintaining and communicating using the same submarine cables are still cheaper than Satellite.

However, there are companies like Starlink that are working constantly to improve the Satellite Internet technology.

How does Internet work in countries without coastal border?

Now, since you are aware that internet data packets transmit via submarine cables, you might wonder how it works in countries without any coastal borders like Afghanistan.

How does internet works in noncoastal countries

There are many countries like Mongolia, Paraguay and Afghanistan without any coastal border line, but they still have internet access. They usually get it either via taking connection from neighbor countries and spreading inside using Optical-Fiber cables or via Satellite communication.

While U.S. army was in Afghanistan, they accessed Internet via Geostationary Satellite signals.

How to check data transmission path?

You can verify yourself the data transmission path and IP address of hopping data packets from routers to routers. Let’s say you open the site google.com and want to see how your ‘request’ data transmits over internet. You can open command prompt in your computer and run the “tracert” command for the site google.com. You will see series of IP addresses popping in return. These are IP addresses of the devices through which your ‘request’ data is transmitting.

tracing IP of routers using tracert

You can use any IP geographical location finder site and check the location of the IP addresses.

In my case, I requested for google.com. My request, in the form of data packets traveled from Pune and via other multiple routers reached Mumbai, the nearest coastal area. Later it reached U.S. via submarine cables.

Other Components of Internet-

Data is transmitted over internet in the form of Data Packets in accordance with protocols like TCP/IP, https, SMTP etc.

Data Packets are chunk of data, obtained after dividing original complete data into multiple parts before sending it to other layer of network. These data packets are combined again while being received at destination.

 Since data is divided into multiple data packets, there is high probability of derangement or loss of data packets. Transmission control protocol (TCP) resolves such issues by appending header in data packets. Header contains information such as sequence of data packets, version and length of data packet and later at the point of destination they combine themselves to form the original data set.

Who owns the internet?

I purposely chose to answer this question in the last. By now you must have understood that it is not a relevant question anymore. Internet is so vast and comprises of so many components that it cannot be owned by single entity.

Google, Facebook and Amazon may own their own Submarine Cables but that is for their own cost minimization. At the end they rely on local networks and ISPs for their e-commerce website data transmission.

So, Internet is not owned by a single company or country. Internet contains many components like Submarine Cable, Servers, Routers, Telecom Towers and each component is owned by different entities.

Final Thoughts-

If we summarize the content in this article, we covered Internet basics, Data Transmission via Submarine Cables, Data Packets, protocols and Routers.

I hope this article have cleared your doubts about Internet and how does most of it work. There are plenty of other complex systems involved but I have tried to keep it simple to convey the basic understanding. If you have any further question you can comment below or use our Ask Us section to put your question. Alternatively, you can directly email us at [email protected]. We will try our best to answer your questions.

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