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Table Of Contents  The TCP/IP Guide
 9  Networking Fundamentals
      9  Fundamental Network Characteristics

Previous Topic/Section
Protocols: What Are They, Anyway?
Previous Page
Pages in Current Topic/Section
12
3
Next Page
Connection-Oriented and Connectionless Protocols
Next Topic/Section

Circuit Switching and Packet Switching Networks
(Page 3 of 3)

Comparing Circuit Switching and Packet Switching

A common temptation when considering alternatives such as these is to ask which is “better”—and as usually is the case, the answer is “neither”. There are places where one is more suited than the other, but if one were clearly superior, both methods wouldn't be used.

One important issue in selecting a switching method is whether the network medium is shared or dedicated. Your phone line can be used for establishing a circuit because you are the only one who can use it—assuming you can keep that pesky wife/husband/child/sister/brother/father/mother off the phone.

However, this doesn't work well in LANs, which typically use a single shared medium and baseband signaling. If two devices were to establish a connection, they would “lock out” all the other devices for a long period of time. It makes more sense to chop the data into small pieces and send them one at a time. Then, if two other devices want to communicate, their packets can be interspersed and everyone can share the network.

The ability to have many devices communicate simultaneously without dedicated data paths is one reason why packet switching is becoming predominant today. However, there are some disadvantages of packet switching compared to circuit switching. One is that since all data does not take the same, predictable path between devices, it is possible that some pieces of data may get lost in transit, or show up in the incorrect order. In some situations this does not matter, while in others it is very important indeed.

While the theoretical difference between circuit and packet switching is pretty clear-cut, understanding how they are used is a bit more complicated. One of the major issues is that in modern networks, they are often combined. For example, suppose you connect to the Internet using a dial-up modem. You will be using IP datagrams (packets) to carry higher-layer data, but it will be over the circuit-switched telephone network. Yet the data may be sent over the telephone system in digital packetized form. So in some ways, both circuit switching and packet switching are being used concurrently.

Another issue is the relationship between circuit and packet switching, and whether a technology is connection-oriented or connectionless. The two concepts are related but not the same; the next topic discusses this in much more detail.

Note: Note that the word “packet” is only one of several terms that are used to refer to messages that are sent over a network. Other terms you will encounter include frame, datagram, cell and segment.



Previous Topic/Section
Protocols: What Are They, Anyway?
Previous Page
Pages in Current Topic/Section
12
3
Next Page
Connection-Oriented and Connectionless Protocols
Next Topic/Section

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Version 3.0 - Version Date: September 20, 2005

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