Frame Relay is a high-performance WAN protocol that operates at the physical and Data Link layers of the OSI reference model. X.25 has several disadvantages so Frame Relay was invented. Frame Relay is a wide-area network with the following features:

  1. Frame Relay operates at a higher speed (1.544 Mbps and recently 44.376 Mbps). This means that it can easily be used instead of a mesh of T-I or T-3 lines.
  2. Frame Relay operates in just the physical and data link layers. This means it can easily be used as a backbone network to provide services to protocols that already have a network layer protocol, such as the Internet.
  3. Frame Relay allows bursty data.
  4. Frame Relay allows a frame size of 9000 bytes, which can accommodate all local-area network frame sizes.
  5. Frame Relay is less expensive than other traditional WANs.
  6. Frame Relay has error detection at the data link layer only. There is no flow control or error control. There is not even a retransmission policy if a frame is damaged; it is silently dropped. Frame Relay was designed in this way to provide fast transmission capability for more reliable media   and for   those protocols that have flow and error control at the higher layers.

Frame Relay Operation:

When carriers use Frame Relay to interconnect LANs, a router on each LAN is the DTE. A serial connection, such as a T1/E1 leased line, connects the router to the Frame Relay switch of the carrier at the nearest point-of-presence (POP) for the carrier. The Frame Relay switch is a DCE device. Network switches move frames from one DTE across the network and deliver frames to other DTEs by way of DCEs.


                                           Figure: Frame Relay Operation

Virtual Circuits

The connection through a Frame Relay network between two DTEs is called a virtual circuit (VC). The circuits are virtual because there is no direct electrical connection from end to end. The connection is logical, and data moves from end to end, without a direct electrical circuit.

With VCs, Frame Relay shares the bandwidth among multiple users and any single site can communicate with any other single site without using multiple dedicated physical lines.

There are two ways to establish VCs:

Permanent Virtual Circuit (PVC):

A source and a destination may choose to have a permanent virtual circuit (PVC). In this case, the connection setup is simple. The corresponding table entry is recorded for all switches by the administrator (remotely and electronically, of course). An outgoing DLCI is given to the source, and an incoming DLCI is given to the destination. PVC connections have two drawbacks. First, they are costly because two   parties   pay   for   the connection all the time even when it is not in use. Second, a connection is created from one source to one single destination. If a source needs connections with several destinations, it needs a PVC for each connection PVCs, permanent virtual circuits, are preconfigured by the carrier, and after they are set up, only operate in DATA TRANSFER and IDLE modes. Note that some publications refer to PVCs as private Vcs.

Switched Virtual-circuit (SVC):

An alternate approach is the switched virtual circuit (SVC). The SVC creates a temporary, short connection that exists only when data are being transferred between source and destination. SVCs, switched virtual circuits, are established dynamically by sending signaling messages to the network (CALL SETUP, DATA TRANSFER, IDLE, CALL TERMINATION).

DLCI (Data link connection identifier):

Frame Relay is a virtual circuit network. A virtual circuit in Frame Relay is identified by a number called a data link connection identifier (DLCI). DLCI values typically are assigned by the Frame Relay service provider (for example, the telephone company). Usually, DLCIs 0 to 15 and 1008 to 1023 are reserved for special purposes. Therefore, service providers typically assign DLCIs in the range of 16 to 1007. Frame Relay DLCIs have local significance,   which   means   that   the   values   themselves   are   not   unique   in   the Frame Relay WAN. A DLCI identifies a VC to the equipment at an endpoint. A DLCI has no significance beyond the single link. Two devices connected by a VC may use a different DLCI value to refer to the same connection.