The internet is the lifeblood of modern Australia. It allows us to organise, innovate, and connect with others around the country and across the world. While it might be hard for Australians born since Y2K to fathom, the internet actually hasn’t been around that long.
Australia’s connection to the internet has come a long way since the days of dial-up, but we still have a long way to go. The internet is still young, and technological innovations are still rapidly improving the quality of our connections to it.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at the history of the internet in Australia, from its humble beginnings to the innovative new technologies being developed and deployed today.
In this blog post, we’ll cover the following:
- Birth of the Australian internet
- The difficulty with dial-up
- The demand for data
- The best-laid plans of nbn™
- Wireless internet and what the future holds
Birth of the Australian internet
As of early 2022, 91% of all Australians are internet users, and the 23.6 million of us online spend an average of 6 hours and 13 minutes engaging with the internet each day, a reality that was almost unimaginable when Australia first joined the global internet on 23 June 1989.
Our first link to the internet was through the University of Melbourne. It was predominantly used by computer scientists, who now could communicate instantly with other nerds worldwide. In modern terms, this link was slower than slow, providing a whopping 56 kilobytes (roughly one-twentieth of a megabyte) per second to the entire country.
To put this into perspective, the bandwidth available to the entire country in 1989 was 2142 times slower than the top speed tier available to a single Perth home on Pentanet Fixed Wireless.
“The Internet belongs to everyone and no one.”
— Bruce Sterling, Short History of the Internet
The difficulty with dial-up
Broader access to the internet came shortly after the University of Melbourne’s connection, with the vast majority of the country having access to a range of dial-up ISPs by the mid-1990s.
Dial-up used existing telephone lines to connect subscribers, which meant that the data transmitted to and from your device had to be transmitted as audio signals that your dial-up modem would translate into bytes.
Before ISDN connections became more popular in the late ’90s, this meant that you actually had to unplug your landline phone to plug in your modem. And when you did, your modem would greet you with this, perhaps the most iconic sound in the history of the internet:
Dial-up connections suffered a slow, drawn-out death to the rise of broadband in the early 2000s, but many Australians now look back fondly on this ear-assaulting tone.
This provided a considerable portion of Australia’s internet-using population with their first access to the internet. Yes, the technology was clunky, and its slow speeds were a nightmare, but thousands of Aussies share a fond nostalgia for the days of dial-up.
It’s hard not to laugh thinking back to how we used to watch JPEGs load line-by-line and yell at each other to get off the phone so that we could update our Myspace profiles or carry-on grinding on Everquest.
The demand for more data
The rise of video streaming and social networking sites like YouTube and Facebook in the 2000s saw the internet go from a fringe luxury for tech heads to an everyday staple in Australian homes. Internet access was only 22% in 1999 but rose dramatically to 79% by 2010-11.
Those still on dial-up connections in the mid-2000s were seeing max download speeds as low as 58kbps – which meant that if you wanted to watch a video on YouTube, you might as well make a cuppa while you let it buffer.
The consensus was in: Aussies loved the internet, and our current connections weren’t fast enough.
The best-laid plans of nbn™
In 2009, having identified Australia’s increasing need for nationwide high-speed internet, the federal government set out with the plan to roll out fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) connections to all residential areas and improve regional connectivity through upgraded fixed wireless and satellite access through the nbn™.
After a change in government in 2013, the decision was made to downgrade this rollout to a ‘Multi-Technology Mix’ that included fibre-to-the-curb (FTTC) and fibre-to-the-node (FTTN) technologies. The new rollout was promised to be cheaper, would get the country connected faster, and was based on the assumption that the average Aussie household wouldn’t need download speeds of much more than 25Mbps in 2023, an assumption we now know was embarrassingly unambitious.
The initial vision of the nbn™ was good: to get all Aussies connected to the kind of quality internet connections we’d need to advance our digital economy. Unfortunately, the execution of the nbn™ rollout left much to be desired, with Australia falling to #68 in the global Fixed Broadband speed rankings in 2019.
Wireless internet and what the future holds
Future internet applications like cloud streaming and the Metaverse are at our doorstep. Taking advantage of these innovative new technologies will require more bandwidth and data than ever before. Sadly, many fixed-line services throughout Australia cannot cut the mustard.
Traditional fixed-line networks are notoriously expensive to maintain, upgrade and expand because delivering new connections requires infrastructure to be run through the ground.
Fixed Wireless connections are fantastic for those lucky enough to be within range of a fixed wireless tower, but the line-of-sight requirement of the technology has made the wide-scale distribution of these services challenging in places like Perth, where our population is so widespread. But Pentanet never knows how to say never. We’re continuing to scale our wireless offerings so that we can provide excellent solutions to people across Perth.
History has shown that telecommunications is an ever-changing industry, and we’re always on the lookout for the next innovation so that we can bring it to your door. For now, we’ll keep bringing next-level internet to everyone we can. Want to see what plans are available in your area? Put in your address on the home page.