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IAP: Netheads and Bellheads

In the 1990s the great debates on how the Internet should be developed was coined the Netheads versus Bellheads. Netheads originated from the people that developed network technology whereas Bellheads originates from the Bell Laboratories – a research institution of telecommunication companies. At the core was a technical discussion whether packet-switching or circuit-switching is more useful and how big the meta-data overhead should be and how long the setup of a connection takes. However, technological development over the next decade rendered the debates irrelevant. In retrospect, it also seems to have been easier to expand the network under the internet with IP (just assign an address) whereas ATM (establish circuits). Also, the technical specifications of ATM turned very complicated to the point where they were too cumbersome.

The technical debates where just a superficial expression of an underlying discussion. The Netheads viewed the Internet from a data perspective whereas Bellheads viewed the Internet from a (continuous) signal perspective. Another issue was that Netheads came from a young industry with little to no corporate backing (market entrant)  whereas Bellheads had a century of corporate history behind their back (incumbent). The Netheads nearly waged a crusade.  It can be viewed through the US political focus as well where Netheads lean liberal and Bellheads lean conservative.

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