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Asynchronous transfer mode (ATM)



Asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) is a high-performance, cell-oriented switching and statistical multiplexing technology that utilizes fixed-length packets to carry different types of traffic. ATM is a technology that enables carriers to capitalize on a number of revenue opportunities through multiple ATM classes of services; high-speed local-area network (LAN) interconnection; voice, video, and future multimedia applications in business markets in the short term; and in community and residential markets in the longer term.

Changes in the structure of the telecommunications industry and market conditions have brought new opportunities and challenges for network operators and public service providers. Networks that have been primarily focused on providing better voice services are evolving to meet new multimedia communications challenges and competitive pressures. Services based on asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and synchronous digital hierarchy (SDH)/synchronous optical network (SONET) or optical transport network (OTN) architectures provide the flexible infrastructure essential for success in this evolving market. Broadband network backbones exploit widely deployed fiber-optic links to build highly available digital channels, based on the SDH TDM or WDM transmission technology.

An early view was that the ATM networks would evolve in an orderly way from the core out. In this idealistic environment high-speed ATM core networks would be installed to accommodate each and every type of application installed in the access networks. However, it rapidly became clear that business pressures do not permit this orderly form of evolution. Business applications require urgent implementation, particularly in key new areas where “first to market” can make a substantial difference to profitability and business success. The cost-effective short-term solutions are being implemented, just to first to market.

The need is now emerging for a more orderly approach to accommodate the growing market need for interconnectivity between Internet services, bulk data, imaging, transaction, video, and frame relay applications. Also, many applications, particularly multimedia applications, require sharing of processing, storage, and database access functions across interconnected components in both public and private networks.

ATM as the technology of public and private networks is now a reality, with service providers around the world introducing and rolling out ATM and ATM–based services. The ability to exploit the benefits of ATM technology within the public network successfully will provide strategic competitive advantage to carriers and enterprises alike.

In addition to revenue opportunities, ATM reduces infrastructure costs through efficient bandwidth management, operational simplicity, and the consolidation of overlay networks. Carriers can no longer afford to go through the financial burden and time required to deploy a separate network for each new service requirement (e.g., dedicating a network for a single service such as transparent LAN or frame relay). ATM technology will allow core network stability while allowing service interfaces and other equipment to evolve rapidly.

The rest of this chapter is structured as follows. First ATM concept, protocol stack, ATM networking are briefly reviewed. Later, ATM applications as a common integrated multi-service platform and its current role within the network and service providers are discussed. Subsequently, the evolution towards ATM-based transmission technology is reviewed and advantages or disadvantages of an ATM based transport infrastructure are stated. Finally, after a brief comparison between standard SDH TDM overlay network and the ATM-based or IP-based alternative, the conclusions and future directions in the industry, network operators and service providers are pointed out.


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Last modified: September 20, 2023