Understanding the Internet

What are the interesting facts about internet that we don’t know?
Carlos Ribeiro
Carlos Ribeiro, Thinking about the future in tech since 1984.

I’ve collected a few interesting facts over the years that (to my own surprise) still are not known by the majority of the Internet users. Some of them are so natural for we technical guys that we tend to forget how surprising they are for regular users.
1) Who is the ultimate ISP of all ISPs?
Regular customers pay to connect to their ISPs, which in turn pay to connect to other (larger) ISPs, and so on. If you keep going upwards then it begs the question: who is the final ISP of all ISPs? Who’s at the top of the Internet food chain?
The answer is that there’s not a single entity that is the ultimate provider of connectivity amongst all ISPs in the world. Instead, there’s a number of very large networks, called ‘Tier 1 ISPs”, which form the core of the Internet. Tier 1 ISPs share a trait: they don’t pay to connect to anyone. They’re connected between themselves via something that’s called a peering agreement, which has caused lots of complicated wars over the past decades, as this status is always disputed between the existing Tier 1 companies.
2) It’s possible to connect to parts of the Internet at virtually no cost
Related to fact (1) above, one of the “secrets’ of the Internet is that even small ISPs and companies can connect to each other and to large content providers at virtually no recurring cost. The setup involves some knowledge and investment, but you’re not going to pay for the “bandwidth” the same way it’s done with an Internet contract. That’s one of the reasons why the Internet became so inexpensive if compared to traditional telecom systems. There are exchange points created just for this purpose, and any ISP willing to participate can join with minimal cost or investment. Content providers usually connect at the same sites and that what allows companies like Google, Facebook and others to provide vast amounts of data directly to ISPs without neither part needing to pay for intermediates.
3) Distance affects the maximum speed of file transfer
Most customers aren’t aware that the maximum speed for a download is affected by the distance between the customer and the server where the file is located. This is known as the bandwidth-delay product. It’s one reason why it’s better to locate servers for large file transfers, like corporate backups, in the same region or geography, avoiding long distance or international links.
4) The path from A to B is not necessarily the path from B to A
This is one of the most surprising things for newbies, and it’s something that even more experienced network engineers forget sometimes. Whenever someone uses a tool named “traceroute” to discover that is the path from A to B, we only know the way OUT (from A to B). The path from B to A can be completely different. Forgetting to remember this leads people to wrong conclusions whenever there’s a performance problem.
Written Jan 23 • View Upvotes • Answer requested by Liam Jones

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