On shared network topologies like Ethernet there is a need to control access to the network. One of the most common method is to use CSMA to ensure that all devices get equal access to the available bandwidth.

Devices attached to the network will listen to other traffic before transmitting this is called ‘carrier sense’. The devices will wait until the channel is free before transmitting on the same cable. There is also the ability to for many devices to use the same network using MA (multiple access), so multiple devices will communicate using the same network cable. The reason that multiple access is a necessity is because all the devices on a CSMA network will have equal access rights to transmit. It is therefore inevitable that there will be two stations attempting to transmit at the same time especially on larger networks. In this case there is the possibility of collisions which should be avoided by using special techniques called collision detection.

CD (Collision detection) defines what happens when two devices see a clear network channel and both attempt to use it at the same time. When a collision initially occurs both devices will stop transmission, wait for a random number of seconds before attempting to retransmit. This is likely to happen often especially on busy networks with lots of users or computers, although a few clients downloading video from a source like Netflix will generate similar issues.

This method is used on most Ethernet networks and is surprisingly effective on a standard IEEE 802.3 Ethernet network channel. It should be noted though that this method only handle collisions as they occur it does not actively prevent them happening in the first place. If there are too many collisions on a network then network performance can be impacted greatly. Indeed to avoid all collisions you need to ensure that only 40% of the bus capacity is used which is very difficult for most busy corporate networks.

A more advanced method of dealing with collisions is the CSMA/CA which stands for collision avoidance. This attempts to avoid collisions by getting each node to broadcast before transmitting. It is usually very effective but not widely used because the avoidance usually generates similar overhead that the collisions themselves.

Further Reading:
Etherenet IEEE
MAC Medium Access Control
Netflix VPN problem

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