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Internet Technology Concepts Everyone Should Know

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This article will define technology concepts as they apply to Internet services accessed via technologies such as broadband, Wi-Fi, cable, or satellite connections.

As a technology framework, the Internet works at 3 main levels:

  • Network Service Providers (backbone suppliers)
  • Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
  • Consumers or end users.

Network service provider

A network service provider (NSP) is a business or organisation that sells bandwidth or network access to Internet Service Providers who, in turn, sells Internet access to end users.

The NSPs sell what are called Network Access Points (NAPs) and are generally referred to as “backbone providers.” NSPs are most commonly telecom companies, data carriers, wireless communication providers, and cable television operators who offer high-speed Internet access.

Internet service provider

Internet service providers (ISPs) are companies that sell Internet connectivity to end users. They typically provide a variety of plans for a monthly fee, which differs depending on the capacity and speed of the connection.

ISPs can connect consumers to the Internet via dial-up modem (which has now largely been superseded by better technologies), broadband, wireless, cable, or satellite. The Internet connection an end user pays for includes storage space on an ISP server, and a range of ancillary services including software, backup, FTP, email, analytics programs, and support services. Before a website stored on an ISP server can be published, users must acquire and register a domain name from a domain name supplier.

Broadband

Broadband is now the most common method for accessing the Internet. It is offered in different forms like ADSL, wireless, fibre-optic, cable, and satellite. Click here to see more detailed explanations of the different broadband services available.

Wireless networks

Wireless (Wi-Fi) networks use radio frequency (RF) technology for transmitting and receiving data. Computers or smartphones need to be fitted with a wireless adaptor to connect to a wireless access point (AP).

The wireless adaptor translates the data into a radio signal and transmits it to the nearest access point. The access point is a wireless router which decodes the data. The access point must be located within a distance that enables it to receive the data.

The latest available wireless standard, based on the 802.11 standard, transmits at 5Ghz and can move as much as 54Mb/sec.

Network protocols

These are the methods and rules that govern communication between computers on a network like the Internet.

Internet protocol

Internet Protocol (IP) is the network protocol used to send data from one computer to another on the Internet. For this to happen, each computer connected to the Internet must have a unique IP address identifying it from all other computers connected to the Internet (see IP address below).

All data transmitted via IP is divided into packets. While each header specifies the origin and destination of for the transmission, the IP protocol cannot by itself establish a two-way communication between the two end points. For this reason, the IP protocol is combined with the Transport Control Protocol (TCP), and the communication link is commonly referred to as a TCP/IP.

TCP/IP

The combination of the IP and TCP protocols is known as the Internet protocol suite. It is the communication language (protocol) used on the Internet. When you acquire Internet access via an ISP, you automatically acquire the TCP/IP program. This happens as part of the process in which you are given a User ID and password to the ISP control panel.

Packet switching

A normal telephone service uses circuit-switching technology, while Internet services rely on packet-switching technology built into a network protocol such as TCP/IP. Packet switching is a networking communication method. Transmitted data are broken down into suitable sized packets which are routed to their destination point where they are re-assembled into their original form.

Packets

TCP/IP communication is carried as a series of IP packets.  These are the basic units of information in a network transmission and they are made up of a header and a body. The header specifies the source and destination addresses, a checksum used for error correction, the length of the packet, and the number of packets used to send the total data. The body contains the data itself.

Routing

The Internet is organised as a hierarchical structure. At the top layer is the NSPs (the backbone) which connect to a number of Regional ISPs who, in turn, connect to Local Area Networks (ISPs).

Each computer connected to an ISP has a unique IP address, not known to any other computer. When a file is sent from one computer to another, the individual packets can take a different route to their destination. Each packet has its destination contained in the IP protocol header. This information is interpreted by routing tables stored on the individual routers that interconnect the network. This information is used to route each packet to its correct destination.

IP address

This is a unique Internet Protocol address that uniquely defines every computer connection to the Internet. The IP address specifies the country, region, and the city/area where the computer is located.

The IP address is included in the header of each IP packet sent via the Internet and it determines to which computer the packet is addressed. This is analogous to house numbers and street addresses used in the postal system.

The IP address is made up of a series of numbers separated by periods. You can find the IP address of your own computer by using a Google search – “what is my IP”.

Domain name

A domain name serves the same purpose as a physical address. A domain name is requested and registered with a specific domain registrar. To function as a web address, the domain name has to be connected to the specific IP addresses of the web servers on which a website is stored. The ISP provides end users with these IP addresses.

The domain name, IP address and URL for a specific website are related but they are not the same.

  • An IP address is a numeric string that uniquely identifies a computer connected to the Internet
  • A domain name is one part of a website’s URL, typically the mysite.com part
  • A URL contains a HTTP protocol request, and the domain name. e.g. http://www.mysite.com.

Internet (web) server

ISPs host the servers on which end users store their websites. A web server responds to HTTP protocol requests for the purpose of distributing information on the Internet. The HTTP request entered as a web address in the search bar of a browser contains the domain name of the resource required.

Unique servers are also set up as game servers, and to handle email and FTP services, as well as data storage.

Proxy server

A proxy server acts as an intermediary for the server from which a request is made. A proxy server is used in situations where business units have several computers but only one single Internet connection to share, to speed up Internet surfing, to hide the IP address of the requesting computer, and to circumvent regional access restrictions.
If you’d like any more detailed information, you could take a look at a comprehensive white paper published at Stanford University titled “How does the Internet work?”.

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