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How data travels around the globe

By the end of 2014 there will be more than 3 billion Internet users in the world. The data they send travels vast distances at high speeds and across complicated routes.

Allow us to explain.

Start the journey
data lines
table laptop


Voice over IP is the method used for the delivery of voice communications over the Internet. Data used for VoIP travels in a similar way to data for email or a web browser.

Email is written and sent

A user writes an email using their preferred email client (such as Outlook, Windows Live Mail, Thunderbird) and then presses ‘send’.

DNS server converts domain names to IP addresses

DNS server converts Internet host names to IP addresses To send an email your device needs to know the destination Internet Protocol (IP) address. To get this information, your email client will contact a DNS server.

packet detail

The data gets broken down into packets

The individual parts of the email are then separated into data packets. Each packet contains information about the data; where it came from, where it’s going and which ‘piece of the data puzzle’ is contained within.

Each data packet leaves the internal network via a modem

In a business premises the modem is usually a standalone unit and is combined with a firewall and a router. In the home it tends to be built into a wireless router - often one provided by the Internet Service Provider (ISP). It’s the modem that dials in to the ISP to secure the internet connection.

table router

The journey of data

To understand how the flow of data works, let’s follow the path of a single email. All data, including VoIP is transmitted in the same way.


Leaving the property

Data travels across the Internet through cables in lots of small packets. Each packet carries up to 1,500 bytes.

Cables carry data to local exchange

The majority of data packets sent from homes and businesses travel along the same twisted copper cable that’s used for phone calls, commonly known as POTS (plain old telephony service) or ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) lines.

Distance makes the difference

The length of this cable (i.e. the distance from the modem to the exchange) will affect the connection speed, although these differences are almost unnoticeable when sending a single email.

Data arrives at the exchange

The destination IP header of each packet is checked on arrival in order to work out the best route possible.

Telephone exchange

The exchange

An exchange acts as a hub for all local connections. From here, each data packet is then sent out onto the Internet backbone.


The Internet backbone

Thousands of miles of fibre optic trunk cables laid underground or on seabeds connect Internet users all over the world. These trunks, a combination of government, academic and commercially funded high-speed cables, are what make split-second global Internet communication possible.

3.4 Million emails are sent per second

More than 100 billion emails are sent everyday in this way - each one split into data packets and routed towards the destination IP address over the internet backbone.

Avoiding the jams

Not all packets from the same email follow the same route. If one path is congested with data, packets will be sent down different lines in order to reach the destination IP address as quickly as possible.

Arrives at destination data centre

Each packet reaches the email server within the data centre at the destination IP address.

Data centre

At the data centre

The data stored within the packet is sorted and rearranged with corresponding packets back into an email to be stored on the mail server, ready to be requested by the recipient.

Email requested

All modern email software automatically syncs regularly with the address' corresponding mail server.

The new destination IP address of the data is taken from this request, and the email is split into packets again for the final leg of its journey.

Big data

More than 640 terabytes of data are sent over the Internet every single minute.

Almost there

The email packets arrive at the telephone exchange local to the destination IP address. The exchange once again acts as a hub for all local data.

Telephone exchange

World data

90% of the world’s data has been created in the past two years alone.

High-speed line

If the sender or recipient has a fibre optic connection, the data travels through underground cables rather than above ground.

Email reaches its destination

The data packets arrive at the destination IP address where they are directed internally to the recipient's device.

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open email

Full inbox

The average office worker receives 81 emails per day and sends 39.

How data travels around the globe

This infographic has been created by Akita, the London-based IT Support and cloud services provider.

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