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Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is an International Telecommunication Union–Telecommunications Standards Section (ITU-T) standard for cell relay wherein information for multiple service types, such as voice, video, or data, is conveyed in small, fixed-size cells.

A private and a public ATM Network

ATM Network Environment

  • ATM is a cell-switching and multiplexing technology that combines the benefits of circuit switching (guaranteed capacity and constant transmission delay) with those of packet switching (flexibility and efficiency for intermittent traffic).
  • ATM is more efficient than synchronous technologies, such as time-division multiplexing (TDM). With TDM, each user is assigned to a time slot, and no other station can send in that time slot. If a station has much data to send, it can send only when its time slot comes up, even if all other time slots are empty. However, if a station has nothing to transmit when its time slot comes up, the time slot is sent empty and is wasted.
  • Because ATM is asynchronous, time slots are available on demand with information identifying the source of the transmission contained in the header of each ATM cell.

ATM Cell Basic Format

  • ATM transfers information in fixed-size units called cells. Each cell consists of 53 octets, or bytes.

  • The first 5 bytes contain cell-header information, and the remaining 48 contain the payload (user information).

ATM Cell Format

ATM Devices

  • An ATM network is made up of an ATM switch and ATM endpoints.
  • An ATM switch is responsible for cell transit through an ATM network. The job of an ATM switch is well defined: It accepts the incoming cell from an ATM endpoint or another ATM switch. It then reads and updates the cell header information and quickly switches the cell to an output interface toward its destination.
  • An ATM endpoint (or end system) contains an ATM network interface adapter. Examples of ATM endpoints are workstations, routers, digital service units (DSUs), LAN switches, and video coder-decoders (CODECs).

ATM Devices

ATM Virtual Connections

  • ATM networks are fundamentally connection-oriented, which means that a virtual channel (VC) must be set up across the ATM network prior to any data transfer. (A virtual channel is roughly equivalent to a virtual circuit).

  • Two types of ATM connections exist:                                                                               virtual paths, which are identified by virtual path identifiers, and virtual channels, which are identified by the combination of a VPI and a virtual channel identifier VCI.
  • A virtual path is a bundle of virtual channels, all of which are switched transparently across the ATM network based on the common VPI.

Virtual Paths – Virtual Channels

All VPIs and VCIs, however, have only local significance across a particular link and are remapped, as appropriate, at each switch.