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Twenty Years of Internet in Hungary

With the launch of commercial internet services 20 years ago in Hungary, the Budapest Business Journal takes a look at how we moved from a snail’s pace to the verge of the 5G breakthrough.  

October 15, 1991 marks the day on which the first computer of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences logged on to the internet. This occasion, together with the set-up of the first local website, sztaki.hu, is known as the birth of the world wide web in Hungary. Yet, for years, the revolutionary technology was available only to the academic field; its commercial use didnʼt start until 1997.

When modem-based internet access was introduced by the predecessor of Magyar Telekom, Matáv, downloading one single megabyte took up to three minutes. ISDN connections doubled the speed, while the proliferation of ADSL brought download capacity of 384 kbit/sec − still just a fraction of today’s performance.

Another milestone came in 2005, when cable TV networks began providing broad-band services. The first 5,000 customers gained access to the optical networks of Magyar Telekom, producing up to 25 Mbit/s download and 5 Mbit/s upload speed as early as December 2008.

Fast forward to 2017, and there is a whole new world out there. As far as landline internet access is concerned, certain providers like DIGI or Magyar Telekom offer speed of 1,000 Mbit/s, and others such as UPC and Invitel go up to 500 Mbit/s and 250 Mbit/s, respectively.

Global Champions 

The mobile internet has undergone similarly spectacular stages of development. In fact, by now Hungary is among the global champions in this league. Local users have the privilege of enjoying the third fastest 4G/LTE network in the whole world, according to the latest figures from wireless coverage mapping specialists OpenSignal. Average speed comes to 42.61 Mbps, which is by 2 Mbps better than the figure from just half a year ago.

It goes without saying that the beginnings were far humbler. WAP (wireless application protocol) embodied the embryonic stage of mobile internet back in 2001; however, its initial speed of 9.6 kbit/s meant a single mp3 file took more than an hour to download. MMS debuted in 2003 and the real breakthrough took place two years later with the introduction of 3G mobile networks.

Mobile service providers have been improving their services ever since. Telenor’s indoor coverage in Budapest downtown went from 37.9% in early 2016 to 85% by the end of that year; nationwide rates of outdoor coverage range between 93.8% (Vodafone) and 98% (Telenor, Magyar Telekom), according to data published by portfolio.hu.

All this goes hand-in-hand with gearing up for 5G, which will provide ten times more robust capacity than now. As a matter of fact, at the end of last year, Ericsson and Magyar Telekom had already unveiled a development that is capable of mobile download speed of 1.2 Gbps.

This is very important as the emerging market of IoT, industry automation and most especially self-driving cars will require a seamless flow of real time data. Since 4.5G tech is scheduled to be available this year, and a 5G mobile test network is being set up in Zalaegerszeg to serve the test track for autonomous cars, local mobile service providers seem to be all geared up to master the 5G challenge, certainly in a manner worthy of commemorating the 20th anniversary of the commercial internet in Hungary.