medium access control

Media Access Control

The Media Access Control (MAC) data communication protocol sub-layer, also known as the Medium Access Control, is a sublayer of the Data Link Layer specified in the seven-layer OSI model (layer 2). It provides addressing and channel access control mechanisms that make it possible for several terminals or network nodes to communicate within a multipoint network, typically a local area network (LAN) or metropolitan area network (MAN).

The MAC sub-layer acts as an interface between the Logical Link Control (LLC) sublayer and the network's physical layer. The MAC layer emulates a full-duplex logical communication channel in a multipoint network. This channel may provide unicast, multicast or broadcast communication service.

Addressing mechanism

The MAC layer addressing mechanism is called physical address or MAC address. This is a unique serial number assigned to each network adapter, making it possible to deliver data packets to a destination within a subnetwork, i.e. a physical network consisting of one or several network segments interconnected by repeaters, hubs, bridges and switches, but not by IP routers. An IP router may interconnect several subnets.

An example of a physical network is an Ethernet network, perhaps extended by Wireless Local Area Networks (WLAN) accesspoints and WLAN network adapters, since these share the same 48-bit MAC address hierarchy as Ethernet.

A MAC layer is not required in full-duplex point-to-point communication, but address fields are included in some point-to-point protocols for compatibility reasons.

Channel access control mechanism

The channel access control mechanisms provided by the MAC layer are also known as a multiple access protocol. This makes it possible for several stations connected to the same physical medium to share it. Examples of shared physical media are bus networks, ring networks, hub networks, wireless networks and half-duplex point-to-point links. The multiple access protocol may detect or avoid data packet collisions if a packet mode contention based channel access method is used, or reserve resources to establish a logical channel if a circuit switched or channelization based channel access method is used. The channel access control mechanism relies on a physical layer multiplex scheme.

The most widespread multiple access protocol is the contention based CSMA/CD protocol used in Ethernet networks. This mechanism is only utilized within a network collision domain, for example an Ethernet bus network or a hub network. An Ethernet network may be divided into several collision domains, interconnected by bridges and switches. A multiple access protocol is not required in a switched full-duplex network, such as today's switched Ethernet networks, but is often available in the equipment for compatibility reasons.

Common multiple access protocols

Examples of common packet mode multiple access protocols for wired multi-drop networks are:

Examples of common multiple access protocols that may be used in packet radio wireless networks are:

For a more extensive list, see List of channel access methods.

See also

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