Jan 11, 2023 19 min read

The Evolution of Computer Networking Technology

The Evolution of Computer Networking Technology

This report will describe three phases of computer networking with the first being the early development of common principles such as packets, protocols and routing. This section will also cover early concepts, technologies and security principles. This section will then conclude with an assessment of how these technologies have impacted society. Many developments were made in the first 40 years of computer networking that completely altered how society functioned. The next section will highlight a variety of concepts and technologies used in modern computer networking.

The second section will build on the previous section by highlighting how new and improved technological advancements have been developed based on early computing. This section will also highlight modern network security practices as well as how modern society has been impacted by networking technologies that are so prevalent in our modern world. The report will conclude with a theoretical section on the future of computer networking and information technology. This section will cover a variety of fascinating concepts, technologies and potential developments with incredible implications for future societies.

Early Computer Networking

Computer networking was first developed in the 1960’s with the first well known networking being the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) which was developed by a research group associated with the U.S. Department of Defense. ARPANET was created by the U.S. government as a means for the decentralized communication from one information system to another. ARPANET eventually became what we know today as the internet which is a massive wide area network of information systems around the world.

From the inception of ARPANET to our current time there have been many developments in computer networking. There have been many changes to protocols, physical hardware, security concepts and software applications we use when building networks. The world of computer networking has continued to evolve from decade to decade bringing more possibility with each discovery. This section will describe many of these developments from the early years of networking to modern times and how these new technologies have affected society.

Networking Concepts

Internet Protocol (IP)

The Internet Protocol (IP) is the standard for communication when using the internet. IP is a protocol that operates on the network layer of the TCP/IP model. When data is communicated across a network it is given a source and destination IP address. Packets, which are bits of information are associated with a particular IP address found in the packet header. The way that packets are sent to the correct destination is through their IP address. IP allow devices on the network to map out where other devices are located. Without the IP, packets would get lost on the network or go to the wrong destination. This is why IP is one of the most important protocols in computer networking.

Internet Protocol (IP) was first released in the early 1970’s by Vinton Gray Cerf who was one of the internet’s early developers. IP works by encapsulating data into small bits in order to transfer them across the network. This disassembly and reformation of each of these network packets happens extremely fast. Each packet is broken into a header and payload which carries the content of the message as well as important information about its origin and destination. This process is made possible because of complex automated processes that provide us with modern services over the internet in real time.

Domain Name System (DNS)

The Domain Name System (DNS) was a revolutionary protocol developed in the 1980’s by an engineer named Paul Mockapetris. DNS is a protocol which takes complex numerical based IP addresses and turns them into simple words that humans can remember. This is known as a domain name and it is what most people are familiar with when using the internet. When a user types in the domain name that they want to visit it is the exact same thing as typing in that website’s IP address. The result will be that the user is taken to the same website whether they search for the domain or IP address.

Every device on the internet is required to have its own IP address so the DNS protocol makes categorizing and identifying these devices much easier. DNS works through the use of what is called a DNS server. A DNS server is a device that stores the devices on the network and their subsequent IP addresses and domain names. When a user wants to communicate with a domain the server will route that traffic to the IP address it is associated with. This process can then also work in reverse.

Networking Technologies


In the early days of computer networking connections could only be made using wires known as ethernet cables or coaxial cables. Coaxial cables were introduced in the 1980’s with a version known as 10BASE5. This was a very thick and inflexible cable that could connect computers to one another for transferring data and information. Early ethernet had very limited bandwidth restrictions and was not suitable for large scale networks. Over the years newer and more capable cables were developed that enhanced the functionality of ethernet.

In 1995 a new version of ethernet was developed which was known as 100BASE-TX which provided several new functions. One of these being that the cable could support full duplex communication which is where devices on the network could send communicate data in both directions at the same time. Before this only half duplex was possible which mean that each device had to wait for its turn to send traffic over the network. With these new functions 100BASE-TX made networking much more practical but it still had its limitations. Over the years newer ethernet versions would be released with ever increasing functionality.

Token Ring

Token Ring is a form of logical network topology that was used in the early days of networking to facilitate better communication. Token Ring uses what is known as a Multistation Access Units (MAU) which serves as a centralized device on that connects all nodes on the network. This creates what is referred to as a star pattern with the devices on the network flaring out from the central MAU as in a star shape. However, the logical makeup of the network follows a ring pattern that follows a communication sequence from device to device.

The Token Ring topology used something known as token passing which was a method of determining which device on the network was able to send and receive network data. Each device would receive a token in logical order of the topology before they could transmit data on the network. Although Token Rings served a purposes in the early years of networking they were also prone to various types of errors such as devices losing their tokens and packets getting lost in the ring before reaching their intended destination. Token Rings have since been deprecated as a common topology used in modern networking. Below is a graphical representation of the Token Ring topology.

Networking & Security

Once networking became more common place in the 70’s and 80’s it was clear that some form of network security needed to be developed. In the early years most of the network traffic was transmitted in plain text which is without any encryption. This allows for hackers to collect data from other users on the network with packet sniffing. Additionally, early networks were vulnerable to malware, viruses, worms and other types of malware of the time. Engineers knew that they had to develop various types of security mechanisms to protect data being transmitted on the network and data stored on information systems.

Access Control

One of the earliest methods of securing a network was through the use of an access control list (ACL). The ACL works by either creating a white list or a black list that limits who can access the network. A white list is a group of devices or users that are allowed to access a network. A black list is a list of devices or users that are not given access to the network. Usually the ACL is created using media access control (MAC) addresses to build provide access control for the network. ACL’s can use other metrics as well such as IP addresses to restrict or allow certain users onto the network.

ACL’s are a very rudimentary form of network security and with the right knowledge and tools a skilled hacker can bypass this security control. One of the methods for this is MAC spoofing where the attacker configures their device to look like one that is allowed on the network. In this instance the network would provide access to the hacker as it appears to be one of the devices that is authorized to access the network. ACL’s are still used to this day and can be effective if they are used in conjunction with other technical security controls.


Another early method of providing network security was through the use of firewalls which were designed to restrict or allow network traffic using predetermined configurations. Firewalls were developed in the 1980’s as information systems became more prevalent in society and the need to protect sensitive information had increased. Early firewalls were devices that the were placed between the local network and the internet. The network administrator would then configure a set of rules that would allow or restrict certain types of traffic from entering the network. These rules could be based on a variety of metrics such as IP addresses, protocols, behavioral signatures and packet contents.

The Societal Impact of Early Networking

In the early days the effects of networking and other computer technologies were not widespread. However, as time accrued individuals, businesses and organizations found different ways that they could use these technologies to make life easier and to accomplish their objectives. At first computers were all about storing and processing information at a high level. As time went on computers became a method of communicating and sharing valuable information with friends, colleagues and business associates.

One of the most impactful developments associated with computer networking is the formation of the World Wide Web (WWW) in the 1990’s. The World Wide Web allowed for users to communicate and share information across vast distances around the world. The WWW was developed by a researcher by the name of Tim Berners-Lee at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Berners-Lee proposed a series of concepts such as hypertext documents and browsers that would be able to fetch and view data using advanced protocols.

At first the WWW was quite small and its usefulness to society was challenged by many but with time it became clear that this invention would change the world. The development of the internet stimulated what became known as the “.com era” which was a period in the 1990’s that was marked by the explosive growth of the internet. The internet quickly grew from a fringe place to share blog posts to a booming digital marketplace and network of ideas that spanned the entire globe. The internet has become one of the most revolutionizing developments in the field of information technology and serves as the foundation of many advanced technologies we use today.

Modern Computer Networking

The last section covered the early history of computer networking leading up to the present. This section will cover aspects of computer networking that we are witnessing in our current time and how they have build upon the discoveries of the past. This section will cover developments and discoveries of the last 24 months. This will include concepts such as cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). This section will also cover modern technologies such as software defined networking (SDN), modern cybersecurity principles & practices and how these developments have impacted society.

Networking Concepts

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is a method of sharing access to resources over the internet which has become more widely used in the last several years. Cloud computing is a technology that allows users to access a variety of services over the internet. This could include software, servers, storage, security, infrastructure and other functions. There are several commonly used cloud services which are Software as a Service (SasS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). There are others however these are the primary services used in cloud computing.

SaaS is a cloud service that allows the user to gain access to a set of software tools and applications over the internet. In this service model the user does not need to host the software or design anything as it is already created and ready for use. The user can often gain access to a SaaS service through the use of their internet browser or through downloading a desktop application. SaaS is beneficial for individuals and organizations who need access to specialized tools but don’t have the budget or resources to develop their own proprietary software. SaaS models are usually provided through a subscription payment model where the users pay each month or annually.

PaaS is another cloud service model which provides the users with a virtual environment where they can develop and host their own software applications. This allows developers to build their own applications without the need for setting up their own physical environment to accomplish this task. PasS is beneficial because it affords users the opportunity to gain access to an environment where they can develop without having to incur the costs associated with purchasing or renting physical equipment.

IaaS is the another commonly used cloud computing service that offers the user with access to resources needed for building IT infrastructure. This includes devices such as servers, storage resources and networking functions. The reason for using IaaS is that it provides the user with a more cost effective way to scale their IT infrastructure accordingly depending on the size of their organization. Instead of purchasing physical hardware the user can rent the service through the cloud. If there is no longer a need for the service or the user would like to scale down they can easily do so by reducing the services needed with their cloud service provider.

Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a development in the field of information technology that uses a variety of wireless networking communication methods to function. IoT is a broad spectrum term that describes a multitude of interconnected devices that have become available in recent years. These devices include home automation services such as smart locks, smart thermostats, home assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Alexa. Other device include security systems, wearable technology and industrial technologies.

IoT devices communicate using unconventional wireless methods such as ZigBee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Low power wide area networks (LPWAN) and LoRaWAN. These wireless communication methods are designed to conserve power and to maximize the performance of the device. For example LPWAN is designed to minimize the energy expenditure in order to save battery life while selectively providing long range connectivity between devices. BLE operates similarly however the communication range is much shorter as it is designed for wearable technology.

Networking Technologies

Cellular Technology: 5G

5G is the latest development in cellular communications technology and is quickly replacing 3G, 4G and LTE networks in modernized nations. 5G is defined by its faster speeds, lower latency, increased area coverage and increased capacity compared to its predecessors. 5G is quickly being adopted and installed throughout the world and will become the new standard in a short period of time. The enhanced capabilities of 5G will revolutionize the world of cellular networks as it will greatly enhance the upload and download speeds of mobile devices and other devices that use cellular connections.

5G will pave the way for a more interconnected world of mobile devices, IoT devices, industrial technologies and many other devices optimized for wireless communication. The benefits of more effective wireless technology include less physical infrastructure, lower costs for building networks and easier connectivity for a multitude of devices with various use cases. 5G is one of the most exciting developments to arise in recent years and we are just now beginning to implement it at scale.

Software Defined Networking

Software Defined Networking (SDN) is a type of technology that uses a virtual environment to create network infrastructure. Instead of using a series of physical hardware devices the SDN uses software to perform these functions. This allows the user to save tremendous financial and labor costs when developing their IT infrastructure for an organization. SDN also allows for more flexibility and options when building the network with a simple and straightforward interface used to configure the entire network.

SDN offers three primary benefits when compared with a traditional network comprised of physical hardware devices. The first is lower cost and labor as mentioned above which allows for more customization by the user without incurring the financial and labor demands scaling their network or altering it to their needs. The next benefit is that the user can more easily control the network by configuring various options on an application. This greatly increases the efficiency and lowers the work load for network administrators. Additionally, SDN’s have the potential for greater security as the entire network is more easily managed than traditional options. Network administrators can easily visualize problem areas that need to be fixed and logically segment parts of the network based on security.

Networking & Security

Elliptic Curve Cryptography

Elliptic Curve Cryptography (ECC) is a form of cryptography that has recently been implemented on mobile devices. ECC is a form of public key cryptography which is based on elliptic curves derived from mathematic algorithms. ECC beneficial because it uses a smaller key size than other forms of cryptography making it a more suitable option for mobile devices such as smartphones. ECC is quickly replacing a previously established form of cryptography known as Rivest–Shamir–Adleman (RSA) which has much longer key lengths and thus requires more time for key generation.


Authentication is a method of verifying a user’s identity or a device before providing access to a network or information system. Authentication is an essential element of cybersecurity as it determines which users and devices are able to access the network. Providing authentication can allow a user to have access to sensitive data such as financial records, personally identifiable information (PII) and proprietary information. Ensuring that this information is only accessible to those who are cleared to do so is an integral aspect of securing an organization’s digital assets.

Today there are many new developments in the field of authentication both at the enterprise level and individual level. A password and simple form of encryption is no longer considered sufficient in order to protect information systems. At the enterprise level an organization may use centralized authentication with the use of security tokens to authenticate a user. Individuals may leverage methods such as multi-factor authentication and biometric authentication to secure their devices. This combined with advanced monitoring through intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS) or security information and event management (SIEM) systems has greatly increased the security posture of modern organizations.

The Societal Impact of Modern Networking

There are countless ways that networking and modern technology have affected society in the recent years. The first of these is through the proliferation of mobile devices and mobile computing. Cellular technology and advancements in mobile device computing have allowed users to no longer be bound by the confines of a desktop computer or even a laptop. Many essential functions can now be easily accomplished on a smartphone from anywhere in the world with cellular service. This includes online banking, email, web development, internet browsing, social media, video streaming and much more. This has made it even easier for people to share ideas with one another in real time as they are always connected to the internet through their device.

Another impact on society has been the proliferation of IoT devices due to advancements in wireless communications technology. In order for a device to operate it used to require a stationary power source and connection to large physical hardware. These days devices can easily run for months on battery power and easily stay connected through low power wireless communications such as BLE or LPWAN. This has allowed for new creative ways to use IoT devices that were not possible before. Items such as wearable technology, home automation equipment and industrial indicators are now more easily installed and can be placed just about anywhere as long as they have a connection. With the recent adoption of 5G these capabilities will likely increase with time.

Future Computer Networking

Over the last 60 years networking methodologies and other computer based technology has advanced tremendously. The invention of the internet and subsequent advances in information technology have already revolutionized the world. In short period of time relative to human history networking and general developments in IT have completely changed the way people interact with one another. These developments have also changed the way that businesses engage the marketplace,  and how governments conduct various affairs around the world.

Future Concepts

Edge Computing

Edge computing is a newer type of computing that is characterized by various processes taking place near the edge of a network. Normally resources on a network are centralized in a data center, the cloud or on a server. In edge computing these resources are distributed throughout the network closer to the endpoints that use them. Edge computing has many potential benefits such as increased speed, reliability and processing power.

Edge computing is commonly used in IoT devices, wearable technology, industrial control systems and other new devices that are being developed. As processing power becomes greater with time the capabilities and functions of edge computing will be enhanced. This will likely lead to an increased use of technologies that support edge computing. This will have the benefit of better performing networks that require less transfer of data. This will likely lead to the development many new devices that are more optimized for real time analytics and mobile use.

Quantum Computing

Quantum computing is a type of computing that is currently in its early stages of development. Quantum computing is characterized by information systems that use metrics found in quantum mechanics such as superposition to perform computing functions. Quantum computers will use qubits instead of bits which are found in modern computers. These new computing methods will allow quantum computers to run processes exponentially faster than modern computers. This will revolutionize the world of high performance computers which will have many applications in financial technology, science, cybersecurity and the military.

There are many implications that will likely result from the development of quantum computing. For example many researchers are concerned that quantum computing will be able to break most modern versions of cryptography used in the world today. This is why there are several initiatives for the research and development of what is known as post quantum cryptography. It is hoped that this will be used to secure future information systems from advanced password cracking conducted on quantum computers.

Future Technologies

AR & VR Technology

AR (augmented reality) and VR (virtual reality) are two technologies still in the early stages of development. VR technologies are those that allow the user to enter a fully immersive digital environment. This environment has been named the meta verse and there are already several initiatives to engineer this environment ahead of the technology that will use it. AR refers to a digital environment that is overlayed onto normal reality. An AR environment would provide the user with a variety of digital options, features and functions they could use in every day life.

Both of these technologies are currently being developed and will likely have massive implications for society. AR/VR environments will allow developers to construct an infinite number of digital environments that can be used for a variety of purposes. As of now this technology is mostly used for online gaming and hobbyists. However, with time this will lead to the development of what is being called web 3.0 where the meta verse and other advanced services will be a platform for commercial activity and other traditional functions.

Satellite Technology

Another area of technology associated with networking that will likely be quite prevalent in the future is space based technology. Currently the early foundation for these types of technologies is being established with new developments such as Starlink. Starlink is a satellite internet provider established by SpaceX. Starlink uses a series of satellites in low earth orbit to transmit internet services potentially anywhere on earth. Starlink is now in its early stages of development and is reported to be able to service download speeds of up to 220 mbps for business clients.

As technology becomes more advanced the capabilities of Starlink and their competitors will become more practical for every day functions. If this technology can be perfected than clients will be able to access reliable high speed internet from anywhere on the planet. This will have massive implications for the development of society specifically in remote locations with harsh conditions. The secondary effects of this technology alone could revolutionize societal development by providing access to the internet.

Future Cybersecurity Concepts

AI & ML Capabilities

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are technologies which are in the early stages of development. AI is a type of advanced computing that uses various algorithms to simulate human level intelligence. ML is a concept that refers to an aspect of AI that which involves computing processes that are able to learn by interacting with data. While AI and ML are still in their infancy they are in the process of being integrated into a variety of services in current times such as driving technologies, cybersecurity and other aspects of IT.

As AI and ML become more advanced and subsequently useful to society they will begin to take on a larger role in numerous industries. One of these industries is cybersecurity which is likely to be heavily augmented with AI technology. Future cybersecurity software will likely use AI and ML for a variety of functions such as threat detection, risk assessments and various forms of automation. AI and ML will likely become a powerful tool that is commonly used by incident responders, cybersecurity analysts and other functions within an organization’s security operations center. It is unlikely that this will replace the expertise of human professionals working within the field but it will definitely change how cybersecurity is conducted.

Quantum Cryptography

Another aspect of future cybersecurity likely to be witnessed in the future will be quantum cryptography. As alluded to earlier quantum computing is a revolutionary new way of computing that is being developed in our current time. Once it is developed it will introduce information systems that can conduct computing functions exponentially faster than our current technology. This will have a variety of impacts on the world with one of them being cybersecurity.

Quantum computers will have the capability to using advanced computing processes to break modern encryption methods. This has the potential to render many, if not all of our cryptographic methods obsolete in a very short period of time. In order to safeguard the multitude of information systems in the world we will need to develop quantum cryptography that is resistant to this type of advanced computing. With quantum cryptography it may become completely impossible for someone to crack even with another quantum computer. Other advancements may include quantum key distribution which uses photons to send and receive cryptographic keys.

Future Societal Impacts

It would seem that are at the precipice of numerous technological breakthroughs each with the potential to completely change society. It is likely that in the not too distant future everyone on the planet will have access to the internet. This will have massive affects on the world of eCommerce as billions of new businesses and customers enter the digital marketplace. This alone will have an incredible impact on the world by increasing the need for dozens of products and services.

It is likely that because of the many developments described in this report we will see the end of what is known as the digital divide. The digital divide is a phenomenon that has occurred where modern nations with access to the internet, computers and other technology have begun to greatly exceed the socioeconomic status of those societies that do not have access to these developments. Each year these underprivileged societies get further behind the technological wave. Through the advancements in celluar networks and space based internet access through technologies such as Starlink, these populations can be serviced at a low enough cost to be affordable.

Additionally, there are some potential disruptive technologies that could alter society in the future such as the development of AI. AI and various forms of mechanical automation have the potential to make many jobs and human functions redundant in our society. Industries such as transportation, logistics, science and technology will likely be massively disrupted with AI and automation technology. There will need to be a way to deal with this issue in the future as entire sectors of jobs get eliminated. On a long enough time horizon it is possible that the majority jobs may become obsolete. Change such as this will require society to find new solutions for compensation, education and government.


Overall, networking technologies and other aspects of IT have been continuously advancing since the early years of computing. With each decade humanity seems to develop new and improved methods, capabilities and use cases for these technologies. As time goes on humanity has become more dependent on networking and IT as essential tasks are digitized and new virtual methodologies are developed. This trend will likely continue as humanity finds new ways for networking, IT and other digital technologies to solve problems.

In just a short time humanity was able to go from the first computer network to the World Wide Web. An invention which was ridiculed by many as a fade has quickly become a pivotal moment in history that advanced modern society in countless unforeseen ways. With many new developments on the horizon such as artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, space based technology, quantum computing and others we are potentially on the cusp of yet even greater discoveries. Many of these potential future developments have the capacity to alter society with similar magnitude as the world wide web, the printing press and other revolutionary inventions observed throughout history.

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