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A router is a networking device that forwards data packets between computer networks. Routers perform the "traffic directing" functions on the Internet. A data packet is typically forwarded from one router to another through the networks that constitute the internetwork until it reaches its destination node.
A router is connected to two or more data lines from different networks (as opposed to a network switch, which connects data lines from one single network). When a data packet comes in on one of the lines, the router reads the address information in the packet to determine its ultimate destination. Then, using information in its routing table or routing policy, it directs the packet to the next network on its journey. This creates an overlay internetwork.
The most familiar type of routers are home and small office routers that simply pass data, such as web pages, email, IM, and videos between the home computers and the Internet. An example of a router would be the owner's cable or DSL router, which connects to the Internet through an ISP. More sophisticated routers, such as enterprise routers, connect large business or ISP networks up to the powerful core routers that forward data at high speed along the optical fiber lines of the Internet backbone. Though routers are typically dedicated hardware devices, use of software-based routers has grown increasingly common.
Internet connectivity and internal use
Routers intended for ISP and major enterprise connectivity usually exchange routing information using the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP). RFC 4098 standard defines the types of BGP routers according to their functions:
Edge router: Also called a Provider Edge router, is placed at the edge of an ISP network. The router uses External BGP to EBGP routers in other ISPs, or a large enterprise Autonomous System.
Subscriber edge router: Also called a Customer Edge router, is located at the edge of the subscriber's network, it also uses EBGP to its provider's Autonomous System. It is typically used in an (enterprise) organization.
Inter-provider border router: Interconnecting ISPs, is a BGP router that maintains BGP sessions with other BGP routers in ISP Autonomous Systems.
Core router: A core router resides within an Autonomous System as a back bone to carry traffic between edge routers.
Within an ISP: In the ISP's Autonomous System, a router uses internal BGP to communicate with other ISP edge routers, other intranet core routers, or the ISP's intranet provider border routers.
"Internet backbone:" The Internet no longer has a clearly identifiable backbone, unlike its predecessor networks. See default-free zone (DFZ). The major ISPs' system routers make up what could be considered to be the current Internet backbone core. ISPs operate all four types of the BGP routers described here. An ISP "core" router is used to interconnect its edge and border routers. Core routers may also have specialized functions in virtual private networks based on a combination of BGP and Multi-Protocol Label Switching protocols.
Port forwarding: Routers are also used for port forwarding between private Internet connected servers.
Voice/Data/Fax/Video Processing Routers: Commonly referred to as access servers or gateways, these devices are used to route and process voice, data, video and fax traffic on the Internet. Since 2005, most long-distance phone calls have been processed as IP traffic (VOIP) through a voice gateway. Use of access server type routers expanded with the advent of the Internet, first with dial-up access and another resurgence with voice phone service.
Larger networks commonly use multilayer switches, with layer 3 devices being used to simply interconnect multiple subnets within the same security zone, and higher layer switches when filtering, translation, load balancing or other higher level functions are required, especially between zones.
Mobile broadband modem
TCAM Content addressable memory (hardware acceleration of route-search)
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