Getting your tweets and Facebook updates can be a little infuriating if your signal isn’t up to scratch, but think back 32 years and you’ll suddenly realise how lucky you are. For a moment, let’s pretend you’re back there. Back in 1984.
Mobile phones were a pipe dream. In the UK he first cellular service didn’t launch until a year later, and even when it did the phones were utterly huge and rarely seen. This was before GSM too. Only those ultra-successful London traders had them.
However, you could send an email, of sorts. A dial-up system using the modems of the day would connect you to something called “Prestel“. This is a system which today is so hard to hard to describe. A few years ago I could call it “Teletext, via your phone line”, but now there’s so many people that don’t know what Teletext is anymore – even that digital version, which no body uses.
I could perhaps even call it the precursor to bulletin board system (BBS), but nobody remembers that either.
Imagine getting a few pages of text, delivered line-by-line at extremely slow speeds. Extremely slowly…
Ah yes, speed. Imagine having that scary “G” symbol on your phone and being stuck with GPRS. That’ll get you around 57.6 kbit/s. Bad huh? Well, imagine being in 1984. No broadband there, just your Prestel terminal connecting you over a prehistoric modem operating at perhaps 300 baud. That’s 0.3 kbit/s or 30 characters a second. 30 characters a second.
Go on. Drink that in for a minute.
If you were lucky you’d get perhaps 600 baud, which was 1.2 kbit/s. Still, GPRS, by comparison, is 57.6 kbit/s – far, far, far faster. Even when advanced dial-up bulletin board systems, “proper email” and dial-up internet access arrived years and years later, the modem speeds only got up to 56 kbit/s – roughly the same as GPRS now.
So, check out the video below, apart from laughing at the hairstyles and general nerd-iness, this shows how a select few (Prestel got around 90,000 users maximum) communicated with each other using the messages system…
I know. I know. It’s cringe-worthy, especially this bit..
I use it for keeping household records, such as what I have in the freezer.
Yeah. Me too love.
They could send messages, but to receive those messages the other person would have had to dial-in and check their messages regularly. Oh, and this wasn’t cheap either. Dialling in would rack up your phone bill, and phone calls weren’t as cheap as they are now – plus it’d block up your phone line so you couldn’t receive or make calls whilst the modem was screaming down the line.
Now we’re getting 4G in more and more places. A quick speed test on my phone just now has delivered 24.61 Mbps. By my calculations, that’s four gerzillion times faster than the speed available in 1984. That’s before we even mention the limited amount of data, pages and activities you could do on Prestel back in 1984, or that fact that you absolutely had to be in your house to use it.
Oh, and don’t even mention WiFi..