Everyone is familiar with the internet, but few have a comprehensive understanding of how it actually works. Perhaps you’re aware that the information stored on any electronic device can generally be broken down into megabytes, kilobytes, bytes and bits of binary code, and that that code is what’s transferred from one device to another. But then how is it sent physically?
Well obviously the amount of yes’s and no’s involved in even a single 3-minute song are inconceivable to human consciousness, but a machine can be programmed to take in all that information extremely quickly. Consider a machine that can make a light bulb flicker on and off much faster than any human hand pressing a button.
But how are those on and off orders conveyed in bulk at extremely fast speeds over long distances? We generally use copper wires. Let’s start by addressing a typical ethernet wire. They have a measurable signal loss/interference for these orders even just over the few feet of wire that they provide.
For internet to be accessible and fast all over the world, humans need something that moves faster than electricity, so they use light. Using a fibre optic cable, we can send bits via light beams. A fibre optic cable is just a thread of glass specially engineered to reflect light. That means when you send a beam down a fibre optic cable, the light beam bounces up and down the cable until it is received on the other end. Because scientists have figured out how to determine the particular angle from which the bouncing beam of light is being received, we can send multiple beams of light through the cable and know which one is which on the other end.
Fibre optic cables supply by far the fastest and most accurate way of sending information over long distances, but its also extremely expensive and challenging to work with.
So we’ve talked about copper wires and fibre optic cables, but how do we send things wirelessly? Wireless bit sending machines typically use radios to send bits from one place to another. The machines have to transmit 1’s and 0’s into radio waves of different frequencies. The receiving machines then reverse this process, converting the waves back into binary code on your computer.
However, radio signals are prone to interference and cannot travel very far without getting garbled. That’s why you can’t generally listen to your favorite hometown radio station unless you’re in your hometown.
So then how are we constantly using wireless devices? The devices need to be close to either a wireless router which is then connected to the previously mentioned copper or fibre optic cables, or they need to connect to some kind of service providers’ larger-scaled satellite stuff that I don’t really understand.
Regardless, every single thing you see on the internet is made up of binary code, broken down and transferred via the presence or absence of electricity, the presence or absence of light, or the difference in frequency of radio waves. Pretty amazing stuff.