Definition: ATM is a high-speed networking standard designed to support both voice and data communications.

ATM is normally utilized by Internet service providers on their private longdistance networks. ATM operates at the data link layer (Layer 2 in the OSI model) over either fiber or twisted-pair cable. ATM technology is designed to improve utilization and quality of service (QoS) on high-traffic networks. Without routing and with fixed-size cells, networks can much more easily manage bandwidth under ATM than under Ethernet, for example. The high cost of ATM relative to Ethernet is one factor that has limited its adoption to "backbone" and other high-performance, specialized networks.

ATM is based on the switching of 53-byte cells, in which each cell consists of a 5-byte header and a payload of 48 bytes of information. Figure 14.1 illustrates the format of the ATM cell, including the explosion of its 5-byte header to indicate the fields carried in the header.

Figure 14.1: The 53-byte ATM cell. The 4-bit Generic Flow Control (GFC) field is used as a mechanism to regulate the flow of traffic in an ATM network between the network and the user. The use of this field is currently under development. As we will shortly note, ATM supports two major types of interfaces: Network-to-User (UNI) and Network-to-Network (NNI). When a cell flows from the user to the network or from the network to the user, it will carry a GFC bit value. However, when it flows within a network or between networks, the GFC field is not used. Instead of being wasted, its space can be used to expand the length of the Virtual Path Identifier field.

You can view a virtual channel as an individual one-way end-to-end circuit. this 3-bit field indicates whether payload data represents management information or user data. The virtual channel represents a one-way cell transport facility. which can have a maximum 1526-byte . and a local server could be connected at 155Mbps to other switches either to form a larger local LAN or to connect to a communications carrier's network via a different operating rate. the field expands to 12-bit positions to fill the Generic Flow Control field in an NNI cell. Workstations could be connected to the switch at 25Mbps.The 8-bit Virtual Path Identifier (VPI) field represents one half of a two-part connection identifier used by ATM. the VPI is used to route a common group of virtual channels between switches by enabling ATM switches to simply examine the value of the VPI. which shows an ATM switch that could be used to support three distinct operating rates. The Virtual Channel Identifier (VCI) is the second half of the two-part connection identifier carried in the ATM header. the CLP field bit is set to 0. It is described in more detail later in this chapter. Two of those advantages are obtaining full bandwidth access to ATM switches for individual workstations and enabling attaching devices to operate at different operating rates. the cell can be discarded by a switch experiencing congestion. The last field in the ATM cell header is the 8-bit Header Error Control field. This field identifies a virtual path that can represent a group of virtual circuits transported along the same route. The Payload Type Identifier (PTI) field indicates the type of information carried in the 48-byte data portion of the ATM cell. This field provides the capability for detecting all single-bit errors and certain multiplebit errors that occur in the 40-bit ATM cell header. whereas a virtual path that can represent a collection of virtual channels can be viewed as a network trunk line. and FDDI networks. Those advantages are illustrated in Figure 14. The selection of a 53-byte cell length results in a minimum of latency in comparison to the packet length of traditional LANs. Later in this chapter. Advantages of the Technology The use of cell-switching technology in a LAN environment provides some distinct advantages over the shared-medium technology employed by Ethernet. This field represents the result of an 8-bit Cyclic Redundancy Check (CRC) code. computed only over the ATM cell header. After data is within an ATM network. The 16-bit VCI field identifies a connection between two ATM stations communicating with one another for a specific type of application. If this field bit is set to 1. while a second VC is used to transport a TCP/IP-based application.2. For example. such as Ethernet. The 1-bit Cell Loss Priority (CLP) field indicates the relative importance of the cell. token-ring. you will examine the use of the VCI. Thus. for each of the previously described operations. Currently. If the cell cannot be discarded. Multiple virtual channels (VCs) can be transported within one virtual path. one VC could be used to transport a disk backup operation. another series of VCIs is established from the opposite direction. Additional PTI field designators have been reserved for future use. Although the VPI is eight bits long in a UNI cell.

in conventional time division multiplexing. Because the length of each cell is fixed and the position of information in each header is known. on traditional LANs. The connection process results in the specification of a transmission path between ATM switches and end stations. in which cells are transmitted only when data is present to send. which executes more slowly than hardware-based switching. In comparison. ATM switching can be accomplished via the use of hardware. Concerning the connection-oriented technology used by ATM.2: ATM is based on the switching of 53-byte cells. the multiplexing of ATM cells occurs via asynchronous transfer. cells transporting voice. data. bridging and routing functions are normally performed by software or firmware. keepalive or synchronization bytes are transmitted when there is no data to be sent. this means that a connection between the ATM stations must be established before data transfer occurs. Two additional features of ATM that warrant discussion are its asynchronous operation and its connection-oriented operation. Because the ATM cell is always 53 bytes in length. In comparison. and video can be intermixed without the latency of one cell adversely affecting other cells. ATM cells are intermixed via multiplexing. enabling the header in ATM cells to be used to route the cells on the required path through an ATM network.frame length. and cells from individual connections are forwarded from switch to switch via a single-cell flow. Figure 14. However. .