5.1 Packet Delay
There are several contributing sources to the delay encountered in transmitting a packet. On a LAN, the most significant is usually what we will call bandwidth delay: the time needed for a sender to get the packet onto the wire. This is simply the packet size divided by the bandwidth, after everything has been converted to common units (either all bits or all bytes). For a 1500-byte packet on 100 Mbps Ethernet, the bandwidth delay is 12,000 bits / (100 bits/µsec) = 120 µsec.
There is also propagation delay, relating to the propagation of the bits at the speed of light (for the transmission medium in question). This delay is the distance divided by the speed of light; for 1,000 m of Ethernet cable, with a signal propagation speed of about 230 m/µsec, the propagation delay is about 4.3 µsec. That is, if we start transmitting the 1500 byte packet of the previous paragraph at time T=0, then the first bit arrives at a destination 1,000 m away at T = 4.3 µsec, and the last bit is transmitted at 120 µsec, and the last bit arrives at T = 124.3 µsec.
Bandwidth delay, in other words, tends to dominate within a LAN.
But as networks get larger, propagation delay begins to dominate. This also happens as networks get faster: bandwidth delay goes down, but propagation delay remains unchanged.
An important difference between bandwidth delay and propagation delay is that bandwidth delay is proportional to the amount of data sent while propagation delay is not. If we send two packets back-to-back, then the bandwidth delay is doubled but the propagation delay counts only once.
The introduction of switches leads to store-and-forward delay, that is, the time spent reading in the entire packet before any of it can be retransmitted. Store-and-forward delay can also be viewed as an additional bandwidth delay for the second link.
Finally, a switch may or may not also introduce queuing delay; this will often depend on competing traffic. We will look at this in more detail in 14 Dynamics of TCP, but for now note that a steady queuing delay (eg due to a more-or-less constant average queue utilization) looks to each sender more like propagation delay than bandwidth delay, in that if two packets are sent back-to-back and arrive that way at the queue, then the pair will experience only a single queuing delay.
5.1.1 Delay examples
Case 1: A──────B
- Propagation delay is 40 µsec
- Bandwidth is 1 byte/µsec (1 MB/sec, 8 Mbit/sec)
- Packet size is 200 bytes (200 µsec bandwidth delay)
Then the total one-way transmit time for one packet is 240 µsec = 200 µsec + 40 µsec. To send two back-to-back packets, the time rises to 440 µsec: we add one more bandwidth delay, but not another propagation delay.
Case 2: A──────────────────B
Like the previous example except that the propagation delay is increased to 4 ms
The total transmit time for one packet is now 4200 µsec = 200 µsec + 4000 µsec. For two packets it is 4400 µsec.
Case 3: A──────R──────B
We now have two links, each with propagation delay 40 µsec; bandwidth and packet size as in Case 1.
The total transmit time for one 200-byte packet is now 480 µsec = 240 + 240. There are two propagation delays of 40 µsec each; A introduces a bandwidth delay of 200 µsec and R introduces a store-and-forward delay (or second bandwidth delay) of 200 µsec.
Case 4: A──────R──────B
The same as 3, but with data sent as two 100-byte packets
The total transmit time is now 380 µsec = 3x100 + 2x40. There are still two propagation delays, but there is only 3/4 as much bandwidth delay because the transmission of the first 100 bytes on the second link overlaps with the transmission of the second 100 bytes on the first link.
These ladder diagrams represent the full transmission; a snapshot state of the transmission at any one instant can be obtained by drawing a horizontal line. In the middle, case 3, diagram, for example, at no instant are both links active. Note that sending two smaller packets is faster than one large packet. We expand on this important point below.
Now let us consider the situation when the propagation delay is the most significant component. The cross-continental US roundtrip delay is typically around 50-100 ms (propagation speed 200 km/ms in cable, 5,000-10,000 km cable route, or about 3-6000 miles); we will use 100 ms in the examples here. At a bandwidth of 1.0 Mbps, 100ms is about 12 kB, or eight full-sized Ethernet packets. At this bandwidth, we would have four packets and four returning ACKs strung out along the path. At 1.0 Gbit/s, in 100ms we can send 12,000 kB, or 800 Ethernet packets, before the first ACK returns.
At most non-LAN scales, the delay is typically simplified to the round-trip time, or RTT: the time between sending a packet and receiving a response.
Different delay scenarios have implications for protocols: if a network is bandwidth-limited then protocols are easier to design. Extra RTTs do not cost much, so we can build in a considerable amount of back-and-forth exchange. However, if a network is delay-limited, the protocol designer must focus on minimizing extra RTTs. As an extreme case, consider wireless transmission to the moon (0.3 sec RTT), or to Jupiter (1 hour RTT).
At my home I formerly had satellite Internet service, which had a roundtrip propagation delay of ~600 ms. This is remarkably high when compared to purely terrestrial links.
When dealing with reasonably high-bandwidth “large-scale” networks (eg the Internet), to good approximation most of the non-queuing delay is propagation, and so bandwidth and total delay are effectively independent. Only when propagation delay is small are the two interrelated. Because propagation delay dominates at this scale, we can often make simplifications when diagramming. In the illustration below, A sends a data packet to B and receives a small ACK in return. In (a), we show the data packet traversing several switches; in (b) we show the data packet as if it were sent along one long unswitched link, and in (c) we introduce the idealization that bandwidth delay (and thus the width of the packet line) no longer matters. (Most later ladder diagrams in this book are of this type.)