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The following article provides a fast-moving, exciting account of the early days of commercial packet switching in the 1970s, focusing on X.25 and, in particular, on Datapac, the X.25-based Canadian packet switching network. It follows an earlier article in this Column on packet switching in the United Kingdom. We hope to publish additional papers on the history of packet switching from other countries as well. We are so used to the Internet and its amazing suite of ever growing applications that we may tend to forget that in the 1970s and well into the 1980s, common carriers and computer manufacturers worked together in a concerted effort to introduce data packet switching capability worldwide. This effort required the rapid development of an international standard, X.25. This standard, once introduced, led to quick deployment of multiple data networks in many countries, helping lay the groundwork for the Internet. The Canadian Datapac network, in particular, was the first network to fully implement the X.25 suite. Tony Rybczynski, the author of the article, was a key figure in these developments. He describes both the technical and political discussions involved in expediting the introduction of the standard and data networks using it. All readers of this magazine will, I feel, gain considerably in reading this article.
Date of Publication: Dec. 2009