Asynchronous Transfer Mode

Definition of Asynchronous Transfer Mode

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is a high-speed networking technology that enables the efficient transmission of various types of data, such as voice, video, and text, over a single network. It uses fixed-length cells to divide and route data, allowing for efficient and flexible data transmission. This technology is widely used in telecommunications networks, like broadband ISDN, and offers a scalable, robust solution for high-speed data transfer.


The phonetics for the keyword “Asynchronous Transfer Mode” are as follows:Asynchronous: /ˌæsɪŋˈkrəʊnəs/Transfer: /trænsˈfɜr/Mode: /moʊd/

Key Takeaways

  1. Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is a high-speed, connection-oriented network technology that is designed to efficiently handle different types of traffic, like data, voice, and video.
  2. ATM uses fixed-size data units called cells, which consist of a small 53-byte payload and a 5-byte header, to facilitate rapid and predictable transmission, enabling real-time applications and Quality of Service (QoS).
  3. ATM employs a virtual circuit mechanism, which establishes a dedicated path between the sender and receiver before data transmission begins. This path is made up of virtual channels and virtual paths that ensure data reaches its destination reliably and securely.

Importance of Asynchronous Transfer Mode

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is an important technology term, as it refers to a telecommunications and networking protocol that enables high-speed data transmission by efficiently managing bandwidth and reducing network congestion.

The significance of this term lies in the fact that it’s a cell-switching method designed to deliver a wide range of digital services, such as voice, video, and data, simultaneously over a single network connection.

This allows for seamless communication between various devices and platforms, ultimately enhancing overall network performance and reliability.

Furthermore, ATM’s ability to allocate bandwidth dynamically and adapt to fluctuating traffic demands makes it a powerful and flexible solution that can facilitate the swift exchange of information in today’s fast-paced digital world.


Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is a versatile networking technology that addresses the inherent need for efficient communication in an increasingly digital world. Its primary purpose is to facilitate high-speed data transfer, as well as supporting a diverse range of applications such as voice and video services, data networking, and communications infrastructure. ATM’s key strength lies in its ability to efficiently manage the transportation of enormous volumes of data packets, in an era where users demand exceptional responsiveness and optimum network performance.

By employing a connection-oriented approach and utilizing fixed-size cells, ATM achieves a balance between low latency, consistent data delivery, and minimal transmission errors, ultimately elevating the user experience. ATM technology finds its use in numerous applications scenarios from telecommunications networks, such as broadband ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network), to large-scale global networks connecting multiple geographical locations. Moreover, it plays a pivotal role in private networks for enterprises, facilitating seamless connectivity within corporate organizations.

A fundamental feature of ATM is Quality of Service (QoS), which ensures that the varying needs of different applications are met with dedicated bandwidth and priority allocation. For instance, real-time applications like video conferencing demand minimal latency, which is achieved by reserving specific bandwidth capacity for these services. Overall, Asynchronous Transfer Mode has emerged as an effective solution for delivering a high-performance integrated network, capable of addressing the diverse and dynamic requirements of multiple data streams in today’s digital landscape.

Examples of Asynchronous Transfer Mode

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is a high-speed networking technology used for transmitting data, voice, and video traffic. It uses fixed-size packets called cells to enable efficient data transfer and prioritization over high-capacity networks. Here are three real-world examples of its application:

Telecommunications Network Infrastructure:ATM technology has been widely used by telecommunication companies for transmitting large volumes of data, voice, and video traffic over their networks. In the 1990s, major telephone carriers such as AT&T, BT, and NTT deployed ATM-based networks to handle the increasing demand for high-speed data and multimedia services. This provided a foundation for delivering broadband services, including high-speed internet access, Voice over IP (VoIP), and video conferencing.

Education and Research Networks:ATM has been deployed in academic and research institutions to support high-speed data transfer between geographically distributed locations. For example, the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) in the United States used ATM to enable high-speed data transfer between universities and research institutes. This allowed researchers to collaborate and exchange large volumes of data efficiently, supporting projects that required real-time data sharing across different locations.

Broadband-ISDN (B-ISDN) and ATM Forum:In the 1990s, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) initiated the development of the Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network (B-ISDN) to support the need for high-speed data, video, and voice services. To enable the efficient transmission of various types of traffic, B-ISDN adopted ATM as its underlying technology. The ATM Forum was later formed to promote ATM technology and interoperability between different vendors, ensuring a reliable and consistent network infrastructure for users.

Asynchronous Transfer Mode FAQ

1. What is Asynchronous Transfer Mode?

Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is a high-speed networking standard designed for transmitting data, voice, and video over a single network. It uses small, fixed-size packets called cells to transport information and is particularly suitable for high-speed broadband networking.

2. How does Asynchronous Transfer Mode work?

ATM works by dividing data into fixed-size cells and assigning each cell a label to identify its destination. These cells are then transmitted asynchronously over the network. ATM switches at various points throughout the network read these labels to route the cells to their destination efficiently, ensuring continuous data flow without any delays or bottlenecks.

3. What are the benefits of Asynchronous Transfer Mode?

ATM offers numerous benefits, including high-speed data transfer, efficient bandwidth usage, support for multiple types of data (voice, video, and data), predictable performance, and excellent Quality of Service (QoS) capabilities. Additionally, its fixed-size cells and label-switching mechanism helps ensure low-latency transmission, which is critical for real-time applications such as video conferencing and online gaming.

4. What are the disadvantages of Asynchronous Transfer Mode?

Some disadvantages of ATM include its complex and expensive setup and maintenance, the requirement of specialized hardware such as ATM switches, and its incompatibility with other popular networking protocols such as Ethernet. Furthermore, ATM’s fixed cell size may also lead to inefficiencies when dealing with varying sizes of data packets.

5. Is Asynchronous Transfer Mode still in use today?

Although ATM has been largely replaced by more modern networking technologies like Ethernet and IP-based protocols, it is still used in certain niche applications and specialized networks. It is primarily utilized in broadband networks for telecommunication companies and government organizations that require high-speed, low-latency data transfer.

Related Technology Terms


  • ATM Adaptation Layer (AAL)
  • ATM cells
  • Virtual Path Identifier (VPI)
  • Virtual Circuit Identifier (VCI)
  • Quality of Service (QoS)


Sources for More Information


About The Authors

The DevX Technology Glossary is reviewed by technology experts and writers from our community. Terms and definitions continue to go under updates to stay relevant and up-to-date. These experts help us maintain the almost 10,000+ technology terms on DevX. Our reviewers have a strong technical background in software development, engineering, and startup businesses. They are experts with real-world experience working in the tech industry and academia.

See our full expert review panel.

These experts include:


About Our Editorial Process

At DevX, we’re dedicated to tech entrepreneurship. Our team closely follows industry shifts, new products, AI breakthroughs, technology trends, and funding announcements. Articles undergo thorough editing to ensure accuracy and clarity, reflecting DevX’s style and supporting entrepreneurs in the tech sphere.

See our full editorial policy.

More Technology Terms

Technology Glossary

Table of Contents