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Frame relay vs. ATM networks: What's the difference?

How do frame relay vs. ATM networks work? I want to know the difference between frame relay and ATM. Can you give me resources to learn more details?

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To learn the difference between frame relay and ATM networks, I recommend you compare the definitions of frame relay vs. ATM.

According to WhatIs.com, frame relay is defined as follows:

"Frame relay is a telecommunication service designed for cost-efficient data transmission for intermittent traffic between local area networks (LANs) and between end-points in a wide area network (WAN). Frame relay puts data in a variable-size unit called a frame and leaves any necessary error correction (retransmission of data) up to the end-points, which speeds up overall data transmission.... Frame relay complements and provides a mid-range service between ISDN, which offers bandwidth at 128 Kbps, and … ATM, which operates in somewhat similar fashion to frame relay but at speeds from 155.520 Mbps or 622.080 Mbps."

Likewise, Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is defined here:

"ATM ... is a dedicated-connection switching technology that organizes digital data into 53-byte cell units and transmits them over a physical medium using digital signal technology. Individually, a cell is processed asynchronously relative to other related cells and is queued before being multiplexed over the transmission path. Because ATM is designed to be easily implemented by hardware (rather than software), faster processing and switch speeds are possible. The prespecified bit rates are either 155.520 Mbps or 622.080 Mbps. Speeds on ATM networks can reach 10 Gbps."

To learn more, there is an excellent in-depth explanation of the difference between ATM and frame relay networks found on the IT Knowledge Exchange answer forum. Also, our networking fundamentals expert, Chris Partsenidis, gives you frame relay, ATM and Gigabit Ethernet pros and cons in this expert response.

This was first published in January 2010

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