Asynchronous communication

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In telecommunications, asynchronous communication is transmission of data without the use of an external clock signal. Any timing required to recover data from the communication symbols is encoded within the symbols. The most significant aspect of asynchronous communications is variable bit rate, or that the transmitter and receiver clock generators do not have to be exactly synchronized.


Physical layer

In asynchronous serial communication at the physical protocol layer, the data blocks are code words of a certain word length, for example octets (bytes) or ASCII characters, delimited by start bits and stop bits. A variable length space can be inserted between the code words. No bit synchronization signal is required. This is sometimes called character oriented communication. Examples are the RS-232C serial standard, and MNP2 and V.2 modems and older.

Data link layer and higher

Asynchronous communication at the data link layer or higher protocol layers is known as statistical multiplexing or packet mode communication, for example asynchronous transfer mode (ATM). In this case the asynchronously transferred blocks are called data packets, for example ATM cells. The opposite is circuit switched communication, which provides constant bit rate, for example ISDN and SONET/SDH.

The packets may be encapsulated in a data frame, with a frame synchronization bit sequence indicating the start of the frame, and sometimes also a bit synchronization bit sequence, typically 01010101, for identification of the bit transition times. Note that at the physical layer, this is considered as synchronous serial communication. Examples of packet mode data link protocols that can be/are transferred using synchronous serial communication are the HDLC, Ethernet, PPP and USB protocols.

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