Network Technologies

In this article we would discuss about media protocols, media standards. Later we would explore how system gets access over media and how topology works.

  • Access method
  • CSMA / CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access / Collision Detection)
  • CSMA / CA (Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Avoidance)
  • Topology
  • Media
  • Speed

Gaining Access to the Media

Media access methods are independent of the physical and logical topologies. You will find that there are usually just a few combinations that seem to work well, however. Media access methods are simply the rules that govern how a device can submit data to the network. Each access method will have a different effect on network traffic.

Contention as a Method of Media Access

Contention, often called random access, is the media access method that acts as an open door to anyone who wants to walk in. Two types of contention methods exist for media access; they are similar, but a single difference between them changes how efficiently they operate. They are:

  • CSMA/CD (Carrier Sense Multiple Access / Collision Detection)
  • CSMA/CA (Carrier Sense Multiple Access/Collision Avoidance)


In a traditional, or hub-based, Ethernet environment, only one NIC can successfully send a frame at a time. All NICs, however, can simultaneously listen to information on the wire. Before an Ethernet NIC puts a frame on the wire, it will first sense the wire to ensure that no other frame is currently on the wire. If the cable uses copper, the NIC can detect this by examining the voltage levels on the wire. If the cable is fiber, the NIC can detect this by examining the light frequencies on the wire. The NIC must go through this sensing process, since the Ethernet medium supports

multiple access

another NIC might already have a frame on the wire. If the NIC doesn't sense a frame on the wire, it will transmit its own frame; otherwise, if a frame is found on the wire, the NIC will wait for the completion of the transmission of the frame and then transmit its own frame.

Collision Detection

If two or more devices simultaneously sense the wire and see no frame, and each places its frame on the wire, a collision will occur. In this situation, the voltage levels on a copper wire or the light frequencies on a piece of fiber get messed up. For example, if two NICs attempt to put the same voltage on an electrical piece of wire, the voltage level will be different from that of only one device. Basically, the two original frames become unintelligible (or indecipherable). The NICs, when they place a frame on the wire, examine the status of the wire to ensure that a collision does not occur: this is the collision detection mechanism of CSMA/CD.

If the NICs see a collision for their transmitted frames, they have to resend the frames. In this instance, each NIC that was transmitting a frame when a collision occurred creates a special signal, called a jam signal on the wire. It then waits a small random time period, and senses the wire again. If no frame is currently on the wire, the NIC will then retransmit its original frame. The time period that the NIC waits is measured in microseconds, a delay that can't be detected by a human. Likewise, the time period the NICs wait is random to help ensure a collision won't occur again when these NICs retransmit their frames. The more devices you place on an Ethernet segment, the more likely you will experience collisions. If you put too many devices on the segment, too many collisions will occur, seriously affecting your throughput. Therefore, you need to monitor the number of collisions on each of your network segments. The more collisions you experience, the less throughput you will get.


WLANs use a mechanism called Carrier Sense, Multiple Access/Collision Avoidance (CSMA/CA). Unlike Ethernet, it is impossible to detect collisions in a wireless medium. In a WLAN, a device cannot simultaneously send or receive and thus cannot detect a collision: it can only do one or the other. To avoid collisions, a device will use Ready-to-Send (RTS) and Clear-to-Send (CTS) signals. When a device is ready to transmit, it first senses the airwaves for a current signal. If there is none, it generates an RTS signal, indicating that data is about to send. It then sends its data and finishes by sending a CTS signal, indicating that another wireless device can now transmit.

Ethernet (802.3) and LLC (802.2)

There are two ways that specifications become standards. One is through standardized development, and the other is through common usage of a proprietary specification, where the usage becomes so prevalent that the specification is adopted as a standard. Ethernet is the latter. The IEEE was not the first to develop Ethernet. That honor goes to the research and development efforts of three companies in the 1970s: Digital, Intel, and Xerox, which were known collectively as DIX. Later on, the IEEE based its 802.3 standard on the DIX specification. In return, DIX updated its implementation to match the small changes made by the IEEE.

Nowadays, Ethernet is used for these and several other specifications. Ethernet 802.3 is generally implemented in conjunction with 802.2. The system uses the CSMA/CD media access method, with a logical bus topology. Physically, Ethernet can be either a star or a bus. It can use copper coaxial cabling, UTP, and fiber optics. Since Ethernet uses the broadcast system of a bus topology, each node receives every data message and examines the frame header to see whether the message is meant to be received by it. If not, the frames are discarded; if so, the frames are passed on to upper layer protocols so that the receiving application can act on them.

Data Link Layer NameIEEE Standard Description
Top partLogical Link Control (LLC)802.2

Defines how to multiplex multiple network layer protocols in the data link layer frame, which doesn't have to be Ethernet. LLC is performed in software.

Bottom partMedia Access Control (MAC)802.3

Defines how information is transmitted in an Ethernet environment and defines the framing, MAC addressing, and mechanics as to how Ethernet works. MAC is performed in hardware.