My journey to where we are today started back in 1981 when we started a Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), over 35 years ago. This was followed by a dial-up Internet Service in the very early days of the Internet, before broadband and the NBN to where we are today as a Web Hosting Service and Domain Name manager.
It all started back in 1981, I had just left Tandy Electronics, where I had been the manager of the Computer Centre located in Gawler Place, Adelaide. I become a partner in a Computer Business called Computer Campus located in Rundle Street, KentTown. During a visit to the USA in August to secure software for the TRS-80 we were introduced to the computer system called “The Source”. This was a monster for that period with multiple linked Mini Computers, a large number of phone lines connected. It contained a vast amount of information, and was the place to go for information. We were offered the Australian Dealership for the system and agreed without hesitation. An Acoustic Coupler was required to connect your computer to “The Source” as modems were not available in Australia at the time and no devices were able to be connected to the telephone network without approval. Many memberships, were sold throughout Australia. It was later acquired by Compuserve.
So the computer communications seed was sown, I parted company with Computer Campus to concentrate of Computer Software for small business. During this period I heard of computer systems in the US called Bulletin Board Systems (BBS), which were set up for people to be able to leave messages to each other and download software.
So with a very good friend, Grayham Smith together we started learning all about BBS and how they worked, we acquired BBS software called IBBS created by Gene Plantz. IBBS was written in Basic and compiled with the IBM basic compiler. Along the way we made many changes to the software and it served us faithfully for a number of years.
In Australia, until 1975 the PMG, a Government monopoly, owned all telephone wiring and equipment in user premises, the PMG progressed to Telecom Australia in 1975 and Telstra in 1995, and prohibited attachment of third party devices. While most handsets were connected by 600 series connectors, these were peculiar to Australia so imported equipment could not be directly connected in any case, despite the general electronic compatibility. Like most companies we used a Sendata Series 700 Acoustic Coupler, we had two of these, so Grayham and I would connect to each other by telephone with one coupler set to Answer the other set to Originate we were able to converse via the keyboard. While rewriting and testing of the software was going on we heard of a company in NSW that was designing a Modem, and they had Telecom approval for connecting this device to the phone lines. We contacted this company, they were very reluctant at first to help us, but after we told them of our plans they sold us two for testing purposes. These were much better than the Acoustic Coupler as it could connect directly to the phone lines.
We gathered a few friends to test our BBS every evening, it meant I had to be there to switch the modem to connect and answer the incoming call. What we needed was an Auto Answer Modem. There were no such devices available at that time.
We knew that a telephone worked with D.C. ie batteries, to operate the phone and AC to ring the bell, so we experimented with our modem and after many trials we achieved success. The Modem had two switches on the front, one was the Answer/Originate similar to our Acoustic/Coupler the other was simply Connect. We wound up a coil, about 400 turns of very fine transformer wire about 100mm in diameter and wrapped it up in insulation tape. This was placed under the phone. Next we connected a relay across the Connect switch via some electronics to make the weak signal from the coil operate the relay. So with the Modem set in Answer mode and the coil under the phone, when the phone rang the relay connected the Modem to the phone line and answered the call. Simple, but it worked. The BBS was then online 24hrs a day.
Our computer at the time was a President IBM clone, 64K memory, twin five inch floppy disk drives. We added a huge 5MB hard disk which was mounted external as it was too large to fit in the case. As most of the computers in that era had two serial ports, we could run two lines without any problems, but as our members grew in number we found that the lines were busy too often. We were able to purchase computer boards which contained two complete Z80, 64K computers with two serial ports on the rear. Each of the computers was assigned its own hard disk area where all the programs were stored and all the messages and file library were in a common area. We managed to squeeze four of the cards in our computer giving us 8 lines.
Modems were a problem, by this time Auto Answer Smart Modems were available many came with a big discount for BBS operators, but most proved to be unreliable. They suffered from telephone line glitches, and a number of other problems and while okay for short term use they failed when used for long periods. Again we looked at what the market had to offer and found the Dataplex 224 modem. Speeds had increased from 300 baud modems we started with to a whopping 2400 baud. The Dataplex was auto ranging, that is it answered the phone at 2400 then dropped to 1200 and finally to 300 baud. The first Dataplex we purchased cost $1900ea, and over time as out lines increased they had dropped to a mere $1100ea. With these Modems all our connection problems ceased to exist, the Dataplex was a commercial standard modem and the quality was superb.
We had a member of the BBS who worked at the Lands Title Office in Adelaide, when they were going online with their documents and titles they contacted us to check out what modems we were using. They purchased Dataplex and gave me access to their system to help debug the software.
We also purchased a 9600 baud modem from the US to connect to a BBS called Exec-PC a very large BBS of which we were members. Every Saturday night I connected and downloaded all the latest shareware software which we placed on Oracle for our members to download, or on disk called PC-Gold for those just not wanting to spend the time downloading.
This of course lead to another problem, our disks filled up so fast we were continually increasing our disk space. We went from 5MB to 20MB then 40MB, to 2 X 120MB and finally to 2 x 600MB.
During 1987, eSoft, a company that created “The Bread Board System” (TBBS) originally for Tandy TRS-80 computers and later for the PC did a full rewrite of the software in machine code. It was now a multi user system and extremely fast, and made our IBBS software outdated. Instead our system which used computer cards, we were able to plug in one card “Digiboard” which contained 16 serial ports. The software looked after all these ports and was fully multi user, was very configurable by the operator. We changed to TBBS as we had been approached by the Royal Adelaide Hospital to provide a BBS for the Anasthetic department. When a doctor connected either from locally, from Interstate or Internationally they called in they shown a menu for their section, at the same time our members were using the same system with a menu set up for standard BBS use. TBBS was very flexible. A problem we had to resolve was the news and mail called Fidonet, the problem was not with Fidonet itself but the other BBS systems in SA. Every BBS took it turns to be the Fidonet host, which meant an STD call to Sydney, Prophet BBS, every night and downloaded the news and mail, then distribute it to all the other local BBS. This proved very expensive as the membership of the BBS grew. We finally resolved this problem by agreeing to take on the task full time and charging the other BBS a fee based on the volume of data they downloaded. We purchased a Netcomm “trailblazer” modem operating at 14k, this greatly reduced the downloading time an so reduced the overall costs. Our BBS was FidoNet: 3:800/804.
Oracle BBS finally closed down around 1993, I had sold out to Grayham by this time, after 10 years of having the system at my home and having to make sure it was online 24 hours a day, I needed a break. The reason for the closing down, was a letter from a solicitor representing Oracle Software, they had trademarked the name Oracle and insisted Grayham stopped using the name. So rather than fight it out, and they had much more money, Grayham decided to shut it down. So ended an era……..
Early in 1992 I gained my Amateur Radio Certificate of Proficiency allowing me to send radio signals around the world. I became involved in Packet Radio and the local radio BBS in Adelaide. This operated very similar to the telephone BBS, with a message system etc but used radio for connection. I setup my own Satellite Earth Station which allowed me to contact LEO (Low Earth Orbiting) satellites with altitudes ranging from 800-1300KM. The amateur fraternity had a number of Satellites both data and voice. There was a worldwide group of amateurs involved in passing data to and from these satellites. UO-22 a data satellite was called a Polar Orbiting satellite meaning it had a circular orbit which was over the poles, so as the earth rotated on it’s axis the satellite in turn covered the entire earth in a 24 hour period.
In Adelaide we had sight of U0-22 with a 3 day schedule, 1st day at 9.00pm, 2nd day at 9-30pm and there 3rd day at 10pm. Each pass lasted for about 20mins depending on the angle, so some days we had 2 passes occasional we had 3 passes. All the messages were collected from the BBS at 8pm packaged up into files sent up to U0-22 all the while while downloading the packages destined for Adelaide, which after the last pass of the satellite was unpacked and sent up to the BBS message system, like our email of today. This was a very successful system and lasted until, yes, the Internet became available to the people.
Around the start of 1993 I managed to get an account on the Adelaide University computer which was connected to the Internet. To use this system meant learning Unix, there was no graphics of any kind, all text, so without an understanding of basic Unix commands nothing happened.
1994 saw the end of accounts for non Uni students and the advent of Apana (Australian Public Access Network Association) which was an Internet service provided by people as a hobby and was free but very very slow as the more users got online the slower it became. Remember these were the days of dialup, ie telephone access, no NBN or even broadband, which was still 10years in the future.
By this time there were Companies providing Internet but at around $7.00 per hour. I had a friend who had joined one of the providers and he wanted to get me hooked as well, but, I was not prepared to pay this amount, so I with my previous experience with the BBS and packet radio I did my homework, worked out all the costs, purchased the hardware and started Dove Australia. This was setup on a table in the back room of my shop in Morphett Street Adelaide. We started with 6 x 14K modems, FreeBSD software and a 64k ISDN line to the Internet. The day Dove Australia went online I changed the Internet world in Adelaide for ever by charging $2.00 per hour. This upset a number of other ISP who had intended to get on the bandwagon at $7.00 p/h. Some two months later we had used up all the lines in the area about 60, so Telstra put in a 100pair cable direct for Franklin Street exchange, which I thought was too small. When that was all in use they installed a RIM (Remote Integrated Multiplexer) with a fibre optic line to the exchange. This gave us around a 7000 line capacity. By this time we had changed over to Netcomm rack modems at 28K very reliable and also with software I was able to check the operation of these modems from my home after hours.
So Adelaide and the suburbs well catered for and we started to get requests from country areas, which were STD calls to Adelaide, to setup a local service in their area. For a local service we had to rent a room or office near the Telstra depot to make sure lines were available, a rack of modems and an ISDN line and router to connect back to the Adelaide servers. This was then called a PoP (Point of Presence). Most new PoP’s were setup with 10 modems and each ISDN router could have 2 x 64K channels. As increased users joined the modems and ISDN lines were increased. Overall we had PoPs in most large country towns in SA including Nuriootpa, Mount Gambier, Naracoorte, Renmark, Victor Harbor Port Augusta, Whyalla, Port Lincoln, even Alice Springs and Darwin. We also had a number of privately owned smaller ISP in country areas, which we helped setup, and supplied with Internet for their customers. Each POP was located to give the widest coverage possible to enable people to get connected.
As data costs increased we put satellite dishes on the major PoPs, Adelaide, MountGambier and Nuriootpa, 90% of our traffic came via satellite direct from the USA. This the allowed us to decrease our hourly rate to $1.00 p/h.
Towards the end of 1999 we were approached by an American company who were purchasing the largest networks in each state, they made us an offer that could not be refused.
With time on my hands I started helping people with their computer problems and acting as a consultant for people wanting web pages and hosting. I found many people had a Domain Name and Hosting but no access to their pages, as well as paying high prices for no service. I have lost count of the number of clients that have appointed me their IT Manager just so I had the authority to request their account details to better organise their websites. I was asked if I could supply web hosting for them but at a much affordable rate than large firms were charging. So Dove Hosting came into existence and now supplies web hosting, domain names and email accounts at affordable prices, but still retains the premium quality. As a programmer for many, many years I am asked to assist in making web pages more alive and to create database and server side programs. And so the story continues……
Sendata Acoustic Coupler with a 1970’s style telephone with the curved handset.
Sendata Acoustic Coupler with the telephone handset plugged into cups in working position.
Information plate on Sendata Acoustic Coupler showing the position for the send/receive switch.
Netcomm In Modem a very popular modem, card was plugged into computer slot.