From Circuit Switched to IP-Based Networks

From Circuit Switched to IP-Based Networks

Thomas M. Chen (Southern Methodist University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-014-1.ch029
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The founding of the Bell Telephone System, the public switched telephone network (PSTN), has evolved into a highly successful global telecommunications system. It is designed specifically for voice communications, and provides a high quality of service and ease of use. It is supported by sophisticated operations systems that ensure extremely high dependability and availability. Over the past 100 years, it has been a showcase for communications engineering and led to groundbreaking new technologies (e.g., transistors, fiber optics). Yet it is remarkable that many public carriers see their future in Internet protocol (IP) networks, namely the Internet. Of course, the Internet has also been highly successful, coinciding with the proliferation of personal computers. It has become ubiquitous for data applications such as the World Wide Web, e-mail, and peer-to-peer file sharing. While it is not surprising that the Internet is the future for data services, even voice services are transitioning to voice over Internet protocol (VoIP). This phenomenon bears closer examination, as a prime example explaining the success of the Internet as a universal communications platform. This chapter gives a historical development of the Internet and an overview of technical and nontechnical reasons for the convergence of services.
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Historical Perspective

The origins of circuit switching have been well documented (AT&T, 2006). A year after successfully patenting the telephone in 1876, Alexander Graham Bell, with Gardiner Hubbard and Thomas Sanders, formed the Bell Telephone Company. In 1878, the first telephone exchange was opened in New Haven, Connecticut. For a long time, long distance switching was carried out by manual operators at a switchboard. Until the 1920s, the operator wrote down the number requested by the customer, and called the customer back when the other party was on the line. The route for a call was built link by link, by each operator passing the information to another operator who looked up the route for the call. Once a circuit was established, it was dedicated to that conversation for the duration of the call.

The national General Toll Switching Plan was put into effect in 1929. This established a hierarchical, national circuit switching network. Calls went to local offices connected to more than 2,000 toll offices and 140 primary centers, and up to eight interconnected regional centers. Sectional centers were added in the 1950s. This hierarchical network, augmented with direct links between the busiest offices, continued up to the 1980s.

In the 1960s, transmission facilities were converted from analog to digital, such as the T-1 carrier (a time-division multiplexed system allowing 24 voice channels to share a 1.5-Mbps digital transmission link). Digital transmission offers the advantages of less interference and easier regeneration. Digital carriers used time division multiplexing (TDM) instead of frequency division multiplexing (FDM). In FDM, each call is filtered to 4 kHz and modulated to a different frequency to share a physical link. In TDM, sharing is done in the time domain rather than frequency domain. Time is divided into repeating frames. Each frame includes a number of fixed time slots. For example, 24 voice calls share the T-1 carrier which is 1.544 Mb/s. Each frame is 193 bits and takes 0.125 ms. In a frame, one bit is used for framing while the remainder is divided into 24 time slots of eight bits each. The first time slot is used by the first voice call, the second time slot by the second call, and so forth.

Automated electromechanical circuit switches appeared in the 1940s starting with a No. 4 crossbar switch in Philadelphia. These switches were able to understand operator-dialed routing codes or customer-dialed numbers to automatically route calls. In 1976, the first No. 4 electronic switching system (ESS) was installed in Chicago. Electronic switches were special-purpose computers with programmability.

Advances in digital circuits and computers not only improved the performance of telephone switches, but also changed the nature of network traffic. Starting in 1958, modems allowed computers to transmit digital data over voice-grade analog telephone circuits. In the 1960s, computers were still large, and personal computers would not appear until the late 1970s. However, there was an evident need for computers to share data over distances. Digital data increased dramatically in the late 1970s with the proliferation of Ethernet local area networks and personal computers (e.g., Apple II in 1977, IBM PC in 1981).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Quality of Service (QoS): The end-to-end network performance seen by an application, typically measured in terms of packet delay, delay variation, and loss probability.

Time Division Multiplexing (TDM): A method for multiple calls to share a single physical transmission link by allocating periodic time slots to each call.

Packet Switching: A method of communication where data is encapsulated into separate routable units consisting of a packet header and data payload.

Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN): The traditional global telephone system.

Internet Protocol (IP): The common protocol for packets in the global Internet.

Voice Over IP (VoIP): The transmission of voice services over IP networks such as the global Internet.

Circuit Switching: A method of communication used in traditional telephony based on reserving an end-to-end route for the duration of a call.

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