Physical Layer

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What Does Physical Layer Mean?

The physical layer is the first and lowest layer of the Open System Interconnection Model (OSI Model.)


The physical layer (also known as layer 1) deals with bit-level transmission between different devices and supports electrical or mechanical interfaces connecting to the physical medium for synchronized communication.

This layer plays with most of the network’s physical connections—wireless transmission, cabling, cabling standards and types, connectors and types, network interface cards, and more —as per network requirements.

The physical layer does not deal with the actual physical medium (like copper, fiber, etc.)

Techopedia Explains Physical Layer

The physical layer is aimed at consolidating the hardware requirements of a network to enable the successful transmission of data. Network engineers can define different bit-transmission mechanisms for the physical layer level, including the shapes and types of connectors, cables, and frequencies for each physical medium.

Layer 1 is the first layer of the OSI Model, and therefore, the foundation upon which all higher-level functions are based. It translates the information that receives from the data-link layer (layer 2) into electromagnetic signals (binary data) to send them over the physical medium (wired or wireless media). These signals might consist of either digital signals (electrical pulses) or analog signals (continuous electromagnetic waves).

Depending on the type and quality of the physical layer, these signals might be deteriorated due to several phenomena such as noise, attenuation, dispersion, and distortion. The inherent physical limitations of the transmission media also account for the maximum bandwidth and error rate.

Transmission media can be either guided (such as cables, fiber optics, or UTP,) or unguided when no physical connectivity is established between the sender and receiver (such as in the case of wireless connections.)

Since the air itself constitutes the media over which data is sent in unguided media, anyone besides the actual recipient of the information may collect that data.

The physical layer sometimes plays an important role in the effective sharing of available communication resources and helps avoid contention among multiple users. It also handles the transmission rate to improve the flow of data between a sender and receiver.

The physical layer provides the following services:

  • Modulates the process of converting a signal from one form to another so that it can be physically transmitted over a communication channel.
  • Bit-by-bit delivery.
  • Line coding, which allows data to be sent by hardware devices that are optimized for digital communications that may have discreet timing on the transmission link.
  • Bit synchronization for synchronous serial communications.
  • Start-stop signaling and flow control in asynchronous serial communication.
  • Circuit switching and multiplexing hardware control of multiplexed digital signals.
  • Carrier sensing and collision detection, whereby the physical layer detects carrier availability and avoids the congestion problems caused by undeliverable packets.
  • Signal equalization to ensure reliable connections and facilitate multiplexing.
  • Forward error correction/channel coding such as error correction code.
  • Bit interleaving to improve error correction.
  • Auto-negotiation.
  • Transmission mode control.

Examples of protocols that use physical layers include:

  • Digital Subscriber Line.
  • Integrated Services Digital Network.
  • Infrared Data Association.
  • Universal Serial Bus (USB.)
  • Bluetooth.
  • Controller Area Network.
  • Ethernet.

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Margaret Rouse

Margaret jest nagradzaną technical writerką, nauczycielką i wykładowczynią. Jest znana z tego, że potrafi w prostych słowach pzybliżyć złożone pojęcia techniczne słuchaczom ze świata biznesu. Od dwudziestu lat jej definicje pojęć z dziedziny IT są publikowane przez Que w encyklopedii terminów technologicznych, a także cytowane w artykułach ukazujących się w New York Times, w magazynie Time, USA Today, ZDNet, a także w magazynach PC i Discovery. Margaret dołączyła do zespołu Techopedii w roku 2011. Margaret lubi pomagać znaleźć wspólny język specjalistom ze świata biznesu i IT. W swojej pracy, jak sama mówi, buduje mosty między tymi dwiema domenami, w ten…