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What is the definition of ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode)?

What is the definition of ATM (asynchronous transfer mode)? How does ATM apply to a networking environment?

    Requires Free Membership to View has a great definition of ATM (asynchronous transfer mode). But to pare it down, here's an even simpler version of it: ATM is a switching technology that organizes digital data into 53-byte cell units -- as opposed to packets which are used in TCP/IP. These units are then sent over a physical medium, like cable, at very high speeds (like 10 Gbps) using digital signal technology.

Our infrastructure and project management expert, Carrie Higbie, explains how ATM differs from existing networking technologies here:

ATM differs mostly in that the ATM specification covers all layers and switches differently than Ethernet. ATM is a cell relay that encodes data traffic in small 53 byte cells. It also provides for prioritization.

She also provides a great explanation, in this Ask the Expert response, of how ATM and EoATM work and can be applied to networks.

For more information, this expert response from Tom Pisello on our sister site,, explains how ATM networks compare with IP networks, specifically: Comparing IP with ATM networks. RAD University, also, has an ATM tutorial generated by students at leading universities in Israel that you may find useful.

This was first published in September 2009

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