João Neves was one of the team members who worked on Portugal's first Internet connections in 1991. The technical specialist and coordinator of INESC TEC recalls the role of the FCCN Unit in this pioneering work, highlighting the team spirit that he considers "unforgettable".
4 questions reminding us of Portugal's internet connection
Next fall, it will be 30 years since Portugal went online. Can you describe the role of the FCCN Unit(then the Foundation for the Development of National Means of Scientific Calculation) in this process?
Thirty years ago we had occasional connections from a few institutions that allowed them to route international traffic, not just IP traffic. National connectivity between academic and research institutions and the provision of Internet access for this community was, I believe, only possible thanks to the efforts and resources made available by FCCN. I think it's fair to highlight, on the part of FCCN, the intervention of Prof. Vasco Freitas in promoting the various stages.
As part of the team that executed the project connecting Portugal to the Internet, what can you tell us about that time and that experience?
That is the key word: "team". The elements of this team were a set of curious and dedicated supporters of the idea of interconnecting Portuguese institutions in TCP/IP and then having access to the services and information sources available on the Internet. Although these elements were located in different cities from the North to the South of the country, it was very motivating to discuss ideas and solutions, and to know that we could contribute to the evolution of communication environments over TCP/IP. The availability to collaborate was an added value of the group. Our e-mail lists were very dynamic, sometimes exchanging messages day and night! Something that is unforgettable for those who like and work in this area.
Over the next three decades, we saw an exponential evolution of the internet and underlying technologies. Was this something you anticipated as the way forward in the early 1990s? Was it possible to predict its impact on society?
I believe that none of us at the time imagined that the Internet would become "the network" of the whole society, as we perceive it today. However, it was possible to perceive that it was a subject worth investing in given the evident potentialities. It is important to remember that at that time TCP/IP was not the solution for most local networks, especially in corporate networks. However, it seems to me that the evolution of basic technologies, stimulated mainly by the expansion of the Internet to heterogeneous environments of society, exceeded the expectations of the most visionary of the time.
The growing popularity and adherence to services that became available on the Internet, with special relevance to the Web, undoubtedly contributed to this exponential evolution. One of the best consequences of this popularity was the imposition to the Market of the decrease in the costs of communications and equipment, accompanied by the natural growing improvement in hardware performance.
Do you feel that the online world today broadly fits into the goals and mission that you advocated in 1991?
It seems to me that, nowadays, the dimension of the online world exceeds the goals and mission envisaged in the 90s. Today we have countless services and applications with functional and non-functional requirements that demand a complexity from the network that did not seem possible in the 90s. And these implications are reflected in the technological point of view and in the policies of use of the network.