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July 08, 2016

The Start of the Robust Backbone: Ciena Corporation Co Founder Kevin Kimberlin.

Twenty years ago last month, the start of rich media came out of the primordial IP ooze.

A little too dramatic? Maybe.

I was coping with Wall Street demanding I put in modem pools for them to dial into the Internet. Unlike my friends in the consumer world, like Tom Evslin who was developing AT&T’s world net, I had businesses that were trying to make my switch act like a private line. I had already had two switches fail because of dial up seizing the switch. One in Massachusetts failed completely thanks to TIAC and a snowy day. The other was attributed to PANIX and was taking roughly two minutes to generate a dial tone. All of this to reach some pictures, text and not a whole lot else.

If my switches were going to be the access point, the Internet would probably not progress very far.

However, the fate of my switches and their internetworking was doomed and the foreshadowing came thanks to Sprint’s adoption of Ciena’s Wavelength division multiplexing. Up to that point we were using glass, but the distance was not very good and the price of electronics as a repeater made very little sense. In my previous life I knew of the tandem connection between NJ Bell’s Newark Tandem and the MCI POP in West Orange that was using fiber and it was not pretty. With electronics in the manholes, you have to remember that water and electronics normally don’t mix well.

But Sprint and Ciena were not stuck repeating after 2000 kilofeet, they were traveling 200 miles with a 1,600 percent increase in data capacity. Suddenly the backbone was cheap. In effect the cloud was born that day.

Kevin Kimberlin, the co-founder, and I talked on the phone for about thirty minutes. For me, the switchman protecting my network, I did not see the future coming at me. Kevin, on the other hand was building it.

As Kevin pointed out back in 1995, less than 1 percent of the world had access to the Internet. How did we get from A to B? You can draw direct lines back to June 12, 1996. Today, wave division multiplexing is the common basis of all major telecommunications networks. The transition from government-supported NSFNET to the mass adoption of the internet in the United States all started with Ciena’s partnership with Sprint 20 years ago.

The transition made the costs on data transmission commercial, from which we can draw the trend line to where we are today, where not only does 40 percent of the world have access to the Internet, but 70 percent of the Internet is video.

Imagine trying dial up for Netflix.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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