Cambridge Invents ... Pipex, the UK's first commercial ISP

Collusion's interview with the founder of Pipex, Peter Dawe

Do you know that it was a Cambridge company who became the UK’s first commercial Internet Service Provider (ISP), helping us all to get on the net in the early 1990s? 

An ISP is an organisation that provides services for accessing, using, or participating in the Internet, a global system of interconnected computer networks that use standard protocols to link several billion devices worldwide. 

In the late 1980s, ISPs started to be set up in the US and as companies there became reliant on email, they wanted to be able to communicate with any companies they worked with in the UK in the same way.  So in 1990, when the world was communicating via fax (new technology then!) and posted handwritten or typed letters, Cambridge company Unipalm, founded by Peter Dawe, launched The Public IP Exchange Ltd (Pipex) in 1990.  

Pipex’s initial focus was on business customers but it’s reach was beyond commercial opportunities. Pipex supplied services to Demon Internet one of the first consumer ISPs, who provided dial up modem based internet access to users across the UK, allowing everyday people at home access to the internet. The BBC, one of today’s internet innovators, was another early customer with Pipex’s 64k transatlantic line to the USA allowing them to launch www.bbc.co.uk.  It was the low costs and high speed of the Pipex service that finally persuaded BBC DIrectors to back the initiative. 

In 1994, Uniplam Group Plc floated on the London Stock Exchange in order to expand Pipex and in 1995 was sold to UUNet for £150 million. Since 2000, it has been owned by German company, Computerlinks. 

Pipex is an example of the important role Cambridge played in the early development of and access to the internet, a service that today is as vital as water and electricity. 

Press play above to hear more from Peter about Pipex.

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