Media Access Control: What is it and General Overview

By Bernhard Mehl
February 24, 2021
Admin Using Kisi Access Control Dashboard

What is Media Access Control?

A media access control is a network data transfer policy that determines how data is transmitted between two computer terminals through a network cable. The media access control policy involves sub-layers of the data link layer 2 in the OSI reference model.

The essence of the MAC protocol is to ensure non-collision and eases the transfer of data packets between two computer terminals. A collision takes place when two or more terminals transmit data/information simultaneously. This leads to a breakdown of communication, which can prove costly for organizations that lean heavily on data transmission.

Media Access Control Methods

This network channel through which data is transmitted between terminal nodes to avoid collision has three various ways of accomplishing this purpose. They include:

  • Carrier sense multiple access with collision avoidance (CSMA/CA)
  • Carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD)
  • Demand priority
  • Token passing

Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Avoidance (CSMA/CA)

Carrier sense multiple access with collision avoidance (CSMA/CA) is a media access control policy that regulates how data packets are transmitted between two computer nodes. This method avoids collision by configuring each computer terminal to make a signal before transmission. The signal is carried out by the transmitting computer to avoid a collision.

Multiple access implies that many computers are attempting to transmit data. Collision avoidance means that when a computer node transmitting data states its intention, the other waits at a specific length of time before resending the data.

CSMA/CA is data traffic regulation is slow and adds cost in having each computer node signal its intention before transmitting data. It used only on Apple networks.

Want to learn more about the technicalities?

Check out our Academy for lessons on access control.

Go to Academy
Want to learn more about the technicalities?

Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD)

Carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD) is the opposite of CSMA/CA. Instead of detecting data to transmit signal intention to prevent a collision, it observes the cable to detect the signal before transmitting.

Collision detection means that when a collision is detected by the media access control policy, transmitting by the network stations stops at a random length of time before transmitting starts again.

It is faster than CSMA/CA as it functions in a network station that involves fewer data frames being transmitted. CSMA/CD is not as efficient as CSMA/CA in preventing network collisions. This is because it only detects huge data traffic in the network cable. Huge data traffic increases the possibility of a collision taking place. It is used on the Ethernet network.

Demand Priority

The demand priority is an improved version of the Carrier sense multiple access with collision detection (CSMA/CD). This data control policy uses an ‘active hub’ in regulating how a network is accessed. Demand priority requires that the network terminals obtain authorization from the active hub before data can be transmitted.

Another distinct feature of this MAC control policy is that data can be transmitted between the two network terminals at the same time without collision. In the Ethernet media, demand priority directs that data is transmitted directly to the receiving network terminal.

Token Passing

This media access control method uses free token passing to prevent a collision. Only a computer that possesses a free token, which is a small data frame, is authorized to transmit. Transmission occurs from a network terminal that has a higher priority than one with a low priority.

Token passing flourishes in an environment where a large number of short data frames are transmitted. This media access control policy is highly efficient in avoiding a collision. Possession of the free token is the only key to transmitting data by a network node. Each terminal holds this free token for a specific amount of time if the network with the high priority does not have data to transmit, the token is passed to the adjoining station in the network.

Media access control regulates how a network is accessed by computer terminals and transmits from one terminal to the other without collision. This is achieved through CSMA/CD, CSMA/CA, demand priority, or Token passing.

Bernhard Mehl

Bernhard is the co-founder and CEO of Kisi. His philosophy, "security is awesome," is contagious among tech-enabled companies.