The power of the mobile device is quite simply amazing. Today’s miniature computer, which is what we now hold in our hands, is not fixed to a geographical location. It travels with you wherever you are – it is mobile. And with today’s technology, it is more than a communication device. Of course, it hasn’t always been that way. Radical changes in the past decade have brought us to this point. We need to stop calling our utility tool a phone, but instead, we need to call it a device.
This six-part blog series will explore the last decade of the mobile Internet in an attempt to understand its complicated history. By understanding its history, we’ll be able to answer why consumers and developers are faced with an overwhelming number of technology choices. But to understand mobile, we’ll need to start with the history of the Internet itself, or what I’ll dub the “PC Internet.”
HISTORY OF THE PC INTERNET
Although the mobile Internet may sound like a separate network, it is in fact the same Internet that blossomed with PC computers in the 1990s. Although there isn’t a differentiation in actual network, the Internet viewed through the desktop computer is sometimes referred to in the wireless industry as the PC Internet, to separate it from applications and services that have been optimized for mobile devices, or the mobile Internet. Since the mobile Internet shares the same network as the PC Internet, and now the same protocols and languages (although this was not always the case), it is helpful to start with the history of the PC Internet when considering how the Web grew to support mobile devices.
The World Wide Web was first developed in 1989 when Tim Berners-Lee built the protocols for communication between a client and server at the CERN particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland. At that time, CERN was the largest Internet node in Europe, which is an important point to make. The network itself, the Internet, was already in place. In fact, the Internet has roots back to the U.S. government’s ARPANET, the first packet switching network. But in 1989, this network, for the most part, connected government and educational facilities, and each node often had differing systems that made it difficult to share information.
It took a couple of years for Berners-Lee to complete the specifications for the World Wide Web. The first Web site was deployed at CERN on August 6, 1991. This is the date that marks the Web as we know it today. It was the development of the universal address space (URL – Uniform Resource Locator), the protocol (HTTP – HyperText Transfer Protocol) and the document format (HTML – HyperText Markup Language). Although each of the basic elements has evolved from the initial Web site built at CERN, these remain the core components of Web sites, including mobile sites, today.
The next turning point in the history of the World Wide Web came in 1993 with the launch of the Mosaic browser, led by Marc Andreessen and the team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Andreessen later moved to Netscape and developed the Netscape Navigator Web browser. The Internet was now beyond government agencies and universities, and once Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon and began shipping the Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser with Windows 95, in 1995, it became the “dot-com gold rush.”
There are certainly major milestones in the Internet’s history before Berners-Lee’s proposal in 1989, such as the invention of TCP (Transmission Control Protocol / Internet Protocol), and afterwards, the introduction of Java in 1995. Each deserves their full recognition in the story of the Internet. However, for the purposes of describing the mobile Internet, the periods between 1989 and 1995 define the time frame that the core components of the Internet were developed and widely adopted such that it hit critical mass. The latter is very important, as we will see in the introduction of the first mobile Internet devices.
NEXT WEEK: Part 2, AT&T – The First Mobile Internet Phone.