Erlang unit

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The erlang (symbol E[1]) is a dimensionless unit that is used in telephony as a statistical measure of offered load or carried load on service-providing elements such as telephone circuits or telephone switching equipment. It is named after the Danish telephone engineer A. K. Erlang, the originator of traffic engineering and queueing theory.


Traffic measurements of a telephone circuit

When used to represent carried traffic, a value (which can be a non-integer such as 43.5) followed by “erlangs” represents the average number of concurrent calls carried by the circuits (or other service-providing elements), where that average is calculated over some reasonable period of time. The period over which the average is calculated is often one hour, but shorter periods (e.g., 15 minutes) may be used where it is known that there are short spurts of demand and a traffic measurement is desired that does not mask these spurts. One erlang of carried traffic refers to a single resource being in continuous use, or two channels being in use fifty percent of the time, and so on. For example, if an office has two telephone operators who are both busy all the time, that would represent two erlangs (2 E) of traffic; or a radio channel that is occupied for one hour continuously is said to have a load of 1 Erlang.

When used to describe offered traffic, a value followed by “erlangs” represents the average number of concurrent calls that would have been carried if there were an unlimited number of circuits (that is, if the call-attempts that were made when all circuits were in use had not been rejected). The relationship between offered traffic and carried traffic depends on the design of the system and user behavior. Three common models are (a) callers whose call-attempts are rejected go away and never come back, (b) callers whose call-attempts are rejected try again within a fairly short space of time, and (c) the system allows users to wait in queue until a circuit becomes available.

A third measurement of traffic is instantaneous traffic, expressed as a certain number of erlangs, meaning the exact number of calls taking place at a point in time. In this case the number is an integer. Traffic-level-recording devices, such as moving-pen recorders, plot instantaneous traffic.

The concepts and mathematics introduced by A. K. Erlang have broad applicability beyond telephony. They apply wherever users arrive more or less at random to receive exclusive service from any one of a group of service-providing elements without prior reservation, for example, where the service-providing elements are ticket-sales windows, toilets on an airplane, or motel rooms. (Erlang’s models do not apply where the server-providing elements are shared between several concurrent users or different amounts of service are consumed by different users, for instance, on circuits carrying data traffic.)

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