Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) is, according to the ATM Forum, “a telecommunications concept defined by ANSI and ITU (formerly CCITT) standards for carriage of a complete range of user traffic, including voice, data, and video signals”.
ATM was developed to meet the needs of the Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network, as defined in the late 1980s, and designed to integrate telecommunication networks. Additionally, It was designed for networks that must handle both traditional high-throughput data traffic (e.g., file transfers), and real-time, low-latency content such as voice and video.
The reference model for ATM approximately maps to the three lowest layers of the ISO-OSI reference model: network layer, data link layer, and physical layer. ATM is a core protocol used over the SONET/SDH backbone of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), but its use is declining in favour of all IP.
ATM provides functionality that is similar to both circuit switching and packet switching networks: ATM uses asynchronous time-division multiplexing, and encodes data into small, fixed-sized packets (ISO-OSI frames) called cells. This differs from approaches such as the Internet Protocol or Ethernet that use variable sized packets and frames.
ATM uses a connection-oriented model in which a virtual circuit must be established between two endpoints before the actual data exchange begins. These virtual circuits may be “permanent”, i.e. dedicated connections that are usually preconfigured by the service provider, or “switched”, i.e. set up on a per-call basis using signaling and disconnected when the call is terminated.
Use of ATM technology was eventually largely superseded by Internet Protocol (IP)-only technology. Wireless and mobile ATM never established a significant foothold.