Basic Concepts of Communications: An Introduction
24 October 2002 3
Telecommunications systems consist of two main elements—transmission and switching—and may beanalog or digital. A telecom network consists of a number of switching nodes joined by transmission links.The switching mechanism enables transmission facilities to be shared, thus eliminating the need for everyuser to have a dedicated line to every other user. A purely analog telecom system can convey acontinuous range of signals through the network, while a digital system quantifies the information beforesending it. A technique called pulse-code modulation (PCM) is used to convey speech digitally.Communications suggests a system of routes or paths through which information travels from party toparty. In a voice communications network, these paths can connect local devices such as private branchexchanges (PBXs) and terminals in one building or geographically dispersed equipment.Data communications involves the exchange of data over short-haul connections—local-area distancesup to several miles—and long-haul connections over virtually unlimited distances. The term “data” refersto a broad range of information, including documents (text and drawings) and spreadsheets, e-mail,customer records, daily tallies, and other information that is digitally coded and intelligible to a variety ofmachines—such as servers, PCs, mainframes, terminals and other machines. With converged networks,data takes on the additional meaning of voice, video and facsimile—in short, anything that can beconverted to bits and bytes and packaged according to agreed standards (protocols).
Prerequisites for Communications
Underlying the development of any network are certain standards and prerequisites for communications.Specific conditions must be met before communications can occur. This principle holds true in anyinformation exchange: two people attempting to exchange ideas must speak the same language forcommunications to take place. Otherwise, although words are spoken by one and heard by another, nocommunication occurs.In data communications networks, devices must also speak the same language and follow the samerules, and mechanisms must be in place to ensure that data travels from one device to another withouterrors. Unfortunately, commercially available data communications devices speak a variety of tonguesand follow a number of different rules, causing real confusion among data communications users.However, various organizations including the International Telecommunication Union-Telecommunication(ITU-T), the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the Electronics Industries Association (EIA)have interface standards that are widely recognized and used throughout the industry.
Open Systems Interconnection
To communicate, devices must be compatible on various levels. The ISO’s Open SystemsInterconnection (OSI) reference model for data communications consists of a seven-layer hierarchy thatdefines physical interface characteristics, as well as protocol details at respective levels so thatapplications can exchange data reliably. The OSI model does not describe a specification for anyparticular communications system, but serves as a reference point for the establishment of a standarddata communications system.Each layer of the OSI model defines a particular function that involves not only the transfer of data fromone machine to another, but also the integrity of the information transmitted. If received, data is garbledand unintelligible; it is useless and must be retransmitted. The receiving device must be able to let thesending device know whether a transmission has been effectively completed. These aspects of dataexchange, along with others, are defined in the OSI model, which is structured in an upwardly compatible