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.

IAP: Introduction

The internet is a global-scale, technically complex artefact of immense international social and political importance. It is formed by the interaction of technical constraints (e.g. speed of light, number of addresses), usage models and behaviour, technological design choices and policy decisions.

This course will focus on the Internet and other networks will only marginally be mentioned (mobile networks, local networks, etc.), even if they are converging. Applications of the Internet such as the Web and social networks and other online services are not covered.

Networking History

One of the earliest networks was developed by  Claude Chappe (1763-1805), a mechanical semaphore. In 1837 the electrical telegraph allowed transmission of Morse code. In 1866 there was a connection between London and New York at a price of 20 words for 100$. In 1863 Reiss developed telephony. In 1895 the first wireless communication was demonstrated, in 1906 radio was broadly introduced. Television was broadcast in 1928.

The Internet is based on packet-switching which was first demonstrated by Kleinrock in 1961 (Kleinrock, 1961) . In 1964 Baran created military nets using packet-switching (Baran, 1964) . In 1967 the ARPAnet was conceived and installed in 1969. In 1972 the ARPAnet had 15 nodes. In 1973 Metcalfe proposed Ethernet (Metcalfe & Boggs, 1976) .  Vinton G. Cerf & Robert E. Kanhn’s itnernetworking principles developed in 1974 (Cerf & Kahn, 1974) . In 1979 the ARPAnet has 200 nodes.

The Internet was commercialised in the 1990s. The ARPAnet was decommissioned. The NSFnet in 1991 allows commercial use and is itself shutdown in 1995 and replaced by the World Wide Web (WWW). In the 2000s the dotcom-bubble for the first time shot the impact potential of the Internet on the real world.

Internet Basics

The Internet carries packets. Packets have headers that describe them, a payload which contains their contents. Officially, Internet routers only care about packets. The explicit analogy is like mailing a letter (inside the envelope is the payload/letter and the headers equals the address on the envelope). This differs to telephone traffic where the traffic is analysed to optimise the traffic (fax versus voice call).

IP addresses have 32 bits and therefore can approximately connect 4 billion devices. An IP address has become a scarce resource. The question arises who allocates addreses, who can be reached globally and should a new protocol be adopted? IP version 6 has been proposed as the solution.


I think the IETF hit the right balance with the 128 bits thing. We can fit MAC addresses in a /64 subnet, and the nanobots will only be able to devour half the planet.


A protocol defines a set of messages that are sent between end-points and define what these messages mean and what end-points should do with these messages.The internet protocol stack consists of 5 layers: physical, link, network, transport and application. Throughout this course we will focus on transport and network.

The data send in a message will get an additional header for each layer that it traverses. The Internet has at the core the IP and does not change this (“narrow waist model”). The layers above (transport and application) or below (physical, link) can be arbitrarily changed. Side note: in Germany successfully carry pigeons were used to send a message. The rigidity of IP is claimed to be the reason for the success of the Internet. In reality, their are many more layers, there have been observed real world packets with 12 layers and more where the IP layer is repeated multiple times. HTTP has become the main protocol, and other protocols are often blocked, consequently, much traffic that is not actually text (e.g. video) is send over it.

The Internet consists of many autonomous system (Internet Service Providers (ISP)) that communicate via Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). Each system advertises where it can delivers messages to, however, they need not be truthful. Incidents include advertising optimal routes to everywhere to attract all traffic (including special regions). Another alternative is to advertise a route that is cheap, but never deliver the packet. It is not clear how to resolve such misuse of the system.

The Internet has been designed insulated from commercial and political pressures, but the reality has changed. The idea for the Internet and the real-world use have diverged. The course focuses on the tension between technology, policy, commerce and politics.


Baran, P. (1964). On distributed communications networks. IEEE Transactions on Communications Systems, 12(1), 1–9.
Cerf, V., & Kahn, R. (1974). A protocol for packet network internetworking. IEEE Trans. Commun , 22, 627–641.
Kleinrock, L. (1961). Information flow in large communication nets. RLE Quarterly Progress Report, 1.
Metcalfe, R. M., & Boggs, D. R. (1976). Ethernet: Distributed packet switching for local computer networks. Communications of the ACM, 19(7), 395–404.