#TechExchange: How Networks Handle Data Collisions Using Carrier Sense Multiple Access (CSMA)

Carrier Sense Multiple Access is a media access control mechanism used in modern switched networks. This process is used to first detect if the media is carrying a signal before a networking device start sending. If a carrier signal on the media from another node is detected, it means that another device is transmitting. When the device attempting to transmit sees that the media is busy, it will wait and try again after a short time period.

By Cisco Eng. Shingie Lev Muringi 

If no carrier signal is detected, the device transmits its data. It is possible that the CSMA process will fail and two devices will transmit at the same time. This is called a data collision. If this occurs, the data sent by both devices will be corrupted and will need to be resent. The corrupted data packets are usually termed Collision Frames or Runts by network engineers. 

Contention-based media access control methods do not require mechanisms for tracking whose turn it is to access the media; therefore, they do not have the overhead of controlled access methods. However, the contention-based systems do not scale well under heavy media use. As use and the number of nodes increases, the probability of successful media access without a collision decreases. Additionally, the recovery mechanisms required to correct errors due to these collisions further diminishes the throughput.

CSMAAs shown in the figure, CSMA is usually implemented in conjunction with a method for resolving media contention.

The two commonly used methods of Carrier Sense Multiple Access are CSMA/Collision Avoidance (CSMA/CA) and CSMA/Collision Detection (CSMA/CD).

CSMA/Collision Detection

In CSMA/Collision Detection (CSMA/CD), the device monitors the media for the presence of a data signal. If a data signal is absent, indicating that the media is free, the device transmits the data. If signals are then detected that show another device was transmitting at the same time, all devices stop sending and try again later. Traditional forms of Ethernet were developed to use this method.

The widespread incorporation of switched technologies in modern networks has largely displaced the original need for CSMA/CD in local-area networks. Almost all wired connections between devices in a LAN today are full-duplex connections – a device is able to send and receive simultaneously. This means, that while Ethernet networks are designed with CSMA/CD technology, with today’s intermediate devices, collisions do not occur and the processes utilized by CSMA/CD are really unnecessary.

Modern Cisco Switches are design to incorporate CSMA by default to handle data collisions

Modern Cisco Switches are design to incorporate CSMA by default to handle data collisions

However, wireless connections in a LAN environment still have to take collisions into account. Wireless LAN devices utilize the CSMA/Collision Avoidance (CSMA/CA) media access method.

CSMA/Collision Avoidance

In CSMA/CA, the device examines the media for the presence of a data signal. If the media is free, the device sends a notification across the media of its intent to use it. The device then sends the data. This method is used by 802.11 wireless networking technologies.

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