Pioneering internet service provider

Who provides your internet services these days? Virgin? BT? Chances are, that if you were lucky enough to be online in the UK in the early to mid­-nineties, you probably had a Pipex package. 

Unipalm, which changed its name to Pipex in 1990, and was founded by Peter Dawe in Cambridge in 1986, was the United Kingdom’s first Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Wait, what’s an ISP?

You’ve just moved into your new house, and you can’t wait to get online to show all of your Facebook friends the new rain­effect shower. You take out your phone and get ready to connect to the WiFi.

‘Cannot connect to the network. Please contact your Internet Service Provider.’

We’ve all been there, and it’s frustrating. Your ISP is the key­holder to the internet. They’re responsible for running the internet hardware into your house, and for keeping it running. Your ISP might also handle domain name registration and web hosting, but primarily, their job is to grant you access to the internet.

What’s special about Unipalm?

A couple of things; firstly, it was founded in Cambridge, a hotbed even in the 1980s, for some of the most influential technological advances in Europe, including the Sinclair Spectrum and BBC Micro.

Secondly, Unipalm was the United Kingdom’s first commercially available ISP. Until Unipalm, the internet was sparsely distributed, limited to education centres and large or very wealthy businesses. Unipalm ­ which remember, would later become Pipex ­ provided internet access to anyone who could afford it, providing services had been set up near them.

Good ol’ internet

As early as the 1960s, various groups in the United Kingdom, United States and France, were discussing the idea of ‘packet sharing’, which allowed basic digital information from one computer to be sectioned and then packaged, before being sent to another computer over a network.

It wouldn’t be until 1990 that Tim Berners­Lee and friends would invent the WorldWideWeb, the first ever web browser. The release of the WorldWideWeb source code in 1993 suited Unipalm just fine, too, allowing a generation of people who grew up learning basic computer coding, to begin experimenting with an entirely new platform.

Fun fact: The first ever website published on the WorldWideWeb can still be accessed here.

What happened to Unipalm?

Even back in the day, the internet and the companies involved in popularising it, moved quickly.

Unipalm became Pipex, which became extremely popular. That popularity led to Pipex being merged and sold several times, until eventually, it ended up under the Daisy Group umbrella.

Cambridge’s incredible contribution to the internet left a lasting legacy, though. Peter Dawe’s Pipex was instrumental in the setting up of the London Internet Exchange, which currently handles the services of over 500 Internet Service Providers.

Pipex did, in a sense, provide internet services for Internet Service Providers.

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