Last edited 16 Oct 2019

Digital infrastructure

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[edit] Introduction

Digital infrastructure comprises the set of physical and cyber resources that are necessary to enable the information technology (IT) capabilities of a locality, city or country. In a modern society, digital infrastructure has become indispensable to the functioning of society and the quality of life of its citizens.

[edit] Digital infrastructure can comprise the following components:

[edit] Internet

The Internet is a series of billions of interconnected computers located globally and which form an electronic communications network spanning private, public, academic, business and government networks. There are thought to be around 3.4 billion internet users globally.

The Internet is not a tangible entity, but more of a concept. It is sometimes called ‘the Net’ or simply referred to as ‘cyberspace’ – the space which is not physical yet exists as long as computers are interconnected.

The defining nature of the internet is that users of any one computer can gain access to information on other computers as long as they are permitted to do so (some websites require a password for access that is only granted to eligible users or members). Computers connected to the internet use the Internet protocol suite (TCP/IP) to allow devices to be linked worldwide.

Internet users can gain information from other internet users usually through ‘websites’ comprising information that is categorised over one or more ‘pages’. In 1991, there was just one website – that of CERN in Switzerland; today the number is over a billion and growing.

The internet is decentralised – unlike online services – which means it is not centrally controlled or owned by anyone. Each computer (called a host) is independent and its users can switch to whichever internet services they wish to use. Access to the Internet is usually gained through a commercial internet service provider (ISP).

[edit] Broadband

Broadband is the name given to a high-speed internet access comprising hard-wired connections that link users with the Internet. It is the physical connection between a device and the internet and may include the use of a router which allows various devices in the same house or building to have wire-free (Wi-Fi) Internet access. Broadband typically enables high-capacity transmissions over a wide frequency range enabling vast amounts of information to be communicated simultaneously.

[edit] Mobile networks

Also known as cellular networks, these use various frequencies to provide wireless broadband internet and communications for data, voice and text messaging. Each ‘cell’ in the network typically contains a receiver/transmitter (usually a tower or high mast) covering a hexagonal area of land encompassing a locality in a town or city. All the cells are interconnected to each other and to telephone switches or exchanges.

[edit] Communications satellites

Satellites orbit around the earth and provide information for internet, cellular and other networks eg, SatNav. They allow information to be beamed from one area of the earth’s surface to another without the inefficiencies usually associated with short-, medium- and long-wave wireless signals.

[edit] End-user devices

These include laptops, tablets and mobile phones.

[edit] Internet of Things (IoT)

This comprises the interconnectivity through the Internet of a large variety of devices which can include automated vehicles, home control systems, mobile phones and anything else that can be operated and controlled using an Internet connection.

[edit] API integration

API integration processes allow all the applications associated with the internet to be connected seamlessly. This ranges from buying something online to inputting a password into an online bank account.

[edit] Applications (‘apps’)

An app is a software application (usually downloaded onto a mobile device) that exists for the benefit of individual users, allowing them to perform a variety of functions, play games and access various internet-based services eg, access train timetables or the local weather.

[edit] Online platforms

Online platforms allow the exchange of messages between Internet users; they are considered key elements of the internet infrastructure. They include email and instant messaging (IM).

[edit] The Cloud

The Cloud is not a physical entity, but a network of servers, each of which has a different function and which delivers a specific service, such as the storage of personal data, large files and photographs (usually for a fee over a certain storage limit) and access specific services such as photo editing and computer graphics. The Cloud also allows the storage of computer programmes thereby obviating the need to store them on personal devices. This has enabled laptops and other devices to access a broad range of computing power without the need for large inboard memory and computing power.

[edit] Data centres

A data centre is usually a facility in a building (or a dedicated space within a building) used to house computer system hardware, network servers, electronic data storage and associated equipment. Data centres usually house the critical aspects of a network, whether that is a company network, a local area network or a national network (eg, the central tax records of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC)).

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