What is the Internet?


By Greg BryanFeb 8, 2024


If you've caught TeleGeography's podcast, you'll know that we endeavor to explain the business behind human connection every week. We've chatted about Wi-Fi, WAN, and everything in between

We've audaciously called our show TeleGeography Explains the Internet, but we've never properly explained how the internet works and how bits get pushed around the globe. Until now.

That's right. We decided it was time to, quite literally, explain the internet.

Our team is putting on their professor hats to bring you the ultimate five-part explainer special. We'll be highlighting the nuts and bolts of how the industry works together to bring you the content you crave: the online articles, the TikToks, the YouTube videos, etc.

Our series will address the questions:

  1. How does the internet work? 
  2. What is the transport network? 
  3. What are data centers?
  4. What is the cloud? 
  5. What is a WAN?

What is the Internet?

Our first episode kicks things off with a logical question: what is the internet?

Simply put, the internet is a network of computers.

Computers can only understand two things: on and off. Everything that we do on the internet is in binary—a series of 1s and 0s representing on and off—which gives instructions to your computer to do all the amazing things it does.

This means that the very bottom of the internet is a system for sending those 1s and 0s over wires (or spectrum in some cases). Whatever you do on the internet—email, videos, chats—the information is translated into that binary by your devices and then transmitted via packets.

Well, then. “What's a packet?” you might ask.

A packet is a bundle of 1s and 0s with a header that tells it where to go, what type of data is inside, and any kind of special info about its content necessary for its journey. Everything that goes over the internet is separated into packets of data that move through the “tubes” of the internet.

So, for any of our podcast episodes, my voice is digitized into 1s and 0s. Those 1s and 0s are separated into packets, sent to our podcasting host, then stored, and sent to you when you are listening.

Those packets then get reassembled in order by your computer so it sounds like I am talking to you. (For anyone who thinks our world is devoid of magic when you break it all down, electrical engineering can make the magic of fantasy look positively banal.)

We cover lots more in our first episode, including computer networking (Layers 1, 2, and 3), protocols, and traffic exchange. We also invite Vice President of Research Tim Stronge to explain how networks interact with each other. You can listen to the full lesson below and prep for next week when we explain transport networks.  

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From This Episode:

Greg Bryan

Greg Bryan

Greg is Senior Manager, Enterprise Research at TeleGeography. He's spent the last decade and a half at TeleGeography developing many of our pricing products and reports about enterprise networks. He is a frequent speaker at conferences about corporate wide area networks and enterprise telecom services. He also hosts our podcast, TeleGeography Explains the Internet.

Connect with Greg  

Tim Stronge

Tim Stronge

Tim Stronge is VP of Research at TeleGeography. His responsibilities span across many of our research practices including network infrastructure, bandwidth demand modeling, cross-border traffic flows, and telecom services pricing.

Connect with Tim