If not for this nondescript, gray van with the letters "SRI" painted on the side, you might not be reading this article right now. Parked feet from the entrance of the Computer History Museum here in the heart of Silicon Valley, the vintage van is being feted at a celebration marking the very first true Internet connection. The first Transmission Control Protocol (TCP)-based transmission between three separate networks--Arpanet, packet radio, and satellite--was made possible by the van, which was built by the research and development agency SRI International. It was driven for the first time on November 22, 1977. The same van was the key to the first packet radio network--that is, the first mobile digital radio network--a precursor to Wi-Fi and the other wireless networks of today.
The van "represents what a Land Rover does in Africa," said Vinton Cerf, who headed the project for the U.S. Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency. "It helped us explore terrain that didn't have any roads." Filled to the brim with some of the most advanced technology of its day, the "Internet van," as it has since been nicknamed, would drive up and down Interstate 280 in the San Francisco Bay Area, broadcasting data at 100 to 400 kilobits per second. Data was sent from the van to various points around the world, including Los Angeles; Cambridge, Mass.; Sweden; and England--through telephone lines, and routed between satellites.
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