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Friday, July 31, 2009

Quick Tech Lesson: Overview Of The Physical Layer

The physical layer is the basis of all the networks. Nature imposes two fundamental limits on all channels, and these determine their bandwidth. These limits are the Nyquist limit, which deals with noiseless channels, and the Shammon limit, for noisy channels.
Transmission media can be guided or unguided. The principle guided media are twisted pair, coaxial cable, and fiber optics. Unguided media include radio, microwaves, infrared, and lasers through the air.
A key element in most wide area networks is the telephone system. Its main components are the local loops, trunks and switches. Local loops are analog-twisted pair circuits, which require modems for transmitting digital data. Trunks are digital, and can be multiplexed in several ways, including FDM, TDM and WDM. The switches include crossbars, space divison switches, and time divison switches. Both circuit switching and packet switching are important.
The telephone system are now becoming digital from end to end and carrying both voice and data traffic over the same lines. Two variants of this new system, known as ISDN, are being introduced. Narrowband ISDN is a circuit switched digital system that is an incremental improvement over the current system. In contrast, broadband ISDN represents a paradigm shift, since it is based on cell switching ATM technology. Various kinds of ATM switches exist, including the knockout switch and the Batcher-banyan switch.
For mobile applications, the hard-wired telephone system is not suitable. Alternatives to the telephone system include cellular radio and communication satellites. Cellular radio is now widely used for portable telephones but will soon be common for data traffic as well. The current generation of cellular systems (e.g. AMPS) are analog, but the next generation (e.g. PCS/PCN) will be fully digital. Transmission communication satellites are geosynchronous, and there was some interest in bigger systems, but the failure of Iridium slowed down this process.

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