This document describes end-to-end asymmetric digital subscriber line
(ADSL) architecture when using RFC1483 bridging. Note that most early versions
of xDSL modems were bridges between 10BaseT Ethernet at the host side and
RFC1483 encapsulated bridge frames on the WAN side. Even today, the majority of
the ADSL customer premises equipment (CPE) deployed in the field are in pure
The baseline architecture is designed with the assumption of providing
high speed Internet access to the end subscriber using the RFC1483 bridging
model and ATM as the core backbone. The content of this document is based on
the architecture of existing deployments and some inhouse tests.
RFC1483 describes two different methods for carrying connectionless
network interconnect traffic over an ATM network: routed protocol data units
(PDUs) and bridged PDUs.
Routing allows multiplexing of multiple protocols over a single ATM
virtual circuit (VC). The protocol of a carried PDU is identified by prefixing
the PDU with an IEEE 802.2 Logical Link Control (LLC) header.
Bridging performs higher-layer protocol multiplexing implicitly by ATM
virtual circuits. For more information, refer to RFC1483.
This document refers only to bridged PDUs.
Following is a summary of the advantages and disadvantages of the
RFC1483 bridging architecture. This architecture has some important
disadvantages, most of which are inherent in the bridging model. Some of the
disadvantages were noticed during ADSL deployments at customer sites.
Simple to understand.
Bridging is very simple to understand and implement because there are
no complex issues such as routing or authentication requirements for
Minimal configuration of the CPE.
The service provider considers this important because it no longer
requires a large number of truck rolls and no longer needs to invest heavily in
personnel for the support of higher level protocols. The CPE in bridge mode
acts as a very simple device. Minimal troubleshooting is involved at the CPE
because everything that comes in from the Ethernet passes directly to the WAN
Easy to install.
Bridging architecture is easy to install because of its simplistic
nature. After end-to-end permanent virtual circuits (PVCs) are established,
activities such as IP at the upper layer protocols become
Multiprotocol support for the subscriber.
When the CPE is in bridging mode, it is not concerned with which
upper layer protocol is being encapsulated.
Ideal for Internet access in a single user environment.
Because the CPE acts as a set-top box, complex troubleshooting is not
required for upper layer protocols. The end PCs do not require additional
Bridging depends heavily on broadcasts to establish
Broadcasts between thousands of users are inherently unscalable. The
reasons for this are that the broadcast consumes bandwidth across the users'
xDSL loop, and the broadcast requires resources at the head-end router to
replicate packets for the broadcast over point-to-point (ATM PVC)
Bridging is inherently insecure and requires a trusted
The Address Resolution Protocol (ARP) replies can be spoofed and a
network address hijacked. Additionally, broadcast attacks can be initiated on
the local subnet, thus denying service to all members of the local
IP address hijacking is possible.
Consider the following questions before implementing the RFC1483
What are the current and planned numbers of subscribers to be
Do the subscribers need to communicate with each
Are these subscribers single-user residential customers? Do you
service small office, home office (SOHO) customers who might have a small LAN
behind the CPE?
What is the deployment and provisioning of CPEs, digital subscriber
line access multiplexers (DSLAMs) and aggregation Post Office Protocols
Are the Network Access Provider (NAP) and the Network Service
Provider (NSP) the same entity? Does the business model for the NAP also
involve selling wholesale services such as secured corporate access, and
value-added services such as voice and video?
Does the NSP want to offer service selection
How can the accounting and billing be achieved? Is it per usage, per
bandwidth, or per service?
Is the business model of the company that of an independent local
exchange carrier (ILEC), competitive local exchange carrier (CLEC), or Internet
Service Provider (ISP)?
What types of applications does the NSP want to offer to the end
What is data flow volume both upstream and
With these points considered, following are descriptions of how the
RFC1483 bridging architecture will fit and scale to different business
RFC1483 Bridging: Network Architecture
As previously mentioned, there are some inherent problems with the
RFC1483 bridging architecture.
The IOS subscriber bridging feature addresses some of these problems.
Selective application of subscriber policies to a bridge group controls the
flooding of ARPs, unknown packets, and others down each ADSL loop. For example,
by preventing ARPs from being broadcasted, a hostile user cannot discover the
IP address of another user.
Another solution is to put all subscribers into a single subinterface.
Normal bridging behavior will not forward frames to the port on which the frame
was received. In essence, this enforces a type of subscriber bridging in which
all packets between subscribers are filtered. However, this approach has the
Subscriber policy is only applied between subinterfaces. To apply
subscriber policies between two different users, each user must be in a
different ATM subinterface.
Since the Layer 2-to-Layer 3 address mapping is learned (via ARP),
hostile users can still hijack the connection of other users. This is done by
generating ARP traffic with another user's IP address and using a different MAC
The second scenario is more serious for the carrier or ISP. In this
situation, any user can assign the wrong address to a PC or Ethernet-attached
device such as a printer, and cause connection problems for another user. Such
errors or attacks are hard to pinpoint and correct because the offender can be
tracked only by tracing the MAC address of the offender.
Some carriers try to work around this problem by segregating users
across bridge groups, and by implementing subscriber bridging across
subinterfaces. In this case when integrated routing and bridging (IRB) is
required, each user is assigned a unique bridge group and Bridge Group Virtual
Interface (BVI). This approach uses two interfaces per subscriber and can be
challenging to manage.
These issues are addressed and resolved in some ways by the Routed
Bridged Encapsulation (RBE) feature which was introduced in Cisco IOS® Software
Release 12.0(5)DC on the Cisco 6400.
Considering some of the disadvantages of bridging, you might wonder why
the bridging architecture would ever be implemented. The answer is simple. Most
of the ADSL CPEs installed in the field are capable only of forwarding bridged
frames. In these cases, the NSP must implement bridging.
Today, CPEs can do Point-to-Point Protocol over ATM (PPPoA), RFC1483
bridging, and RFC1483 routing. The NSP determines whether to do bridging or
PPP. The decision is based on the implementation considerations mentioned
earlier, in addition to the pros and cons of each architecture.
Even with the disadvantages of bridging architecture, it may be
suitable for a small ISP (that may not be the NAP) or an NAP/NSP serving a
smaller number of subscribers. In these scenarios, the NAP usually forwards all
subscriber traffic to the ISP/NSP, which terminates those subscribers. The NAP
could choose to provide subscriber traffic using ATM or Frame Relay as the
Layer 2 protocol.
The NAPs using current generation DSLAMs can only transport subscriber
traffic using ATM. In this case, the ISP should terminate ATM permanent virtual
circuits (PVCs) to a router.
If the ISP/NSP does not have the ATM interface, a regular serial
interface with encapsulation ATM Data Exchange Interface (DXI) (possibly on an
additional device) can be used to accept the incoming bridged PDUs.
In both scenarios, the NSP/ISP may have to configure IRB on the router
(except when using encapsulation ATM DXI or in the case of transparent
bridging). Today, the most common practice for terminating bridged subscribers
on the NSP/ISP router is to implement IRB. (It is expected that service
providers will gradually migrate to RBE.)
Because of some of the limitations mentioned above, the NSP/ISP may opt
to configure separate bridge groups for each set of subscribers or to configure
all the subscribers in one bridge group. The common practice is to configure a
few bridge groups, and then configure all the subscribers under separate
multipoint interfaces. As mentioned earlier, the subscribers under the same
multipoint interface may not be able to communicate with each other. If certain
users need to communicate, configure those subscribers under different
interfaces (they can still be in the same bridge group).
For a small ISP/NSP, the most common routers used to terminate bridged
subscribers are the Cisco 3810, Cisco 3600, and Cisco 7200. For an ISP/NSP with
a large subscriber base, the Cisco 6400 is preferred. Before calculating the
memory requirements for these routers, consider the same factors as for any
other environment: number of users, bandwidth, and router resources.
Following are the key points of the architecture.
Cisco offers various CPEs that operate with Cisco and non-Cisco DSLAMs.
The configuration for each of these CPEs is problem free and requires no input
from the subscriber. The primary requirement is that the CPE define an ATM
virtual path identifier/virtual channel identifier (VPI/VCI). This allows the
CPE to train up with the DSLAM and start passing traffic. In most instances,
the NAP opts to configure the same VPI/VCI for all subscribers. The NAP usually
pre-provisions the CPE before deploying it at the subscriber's location.
In bridging architecture, the main consideration for the CPE and its
deployment is how the NAP will manage the CPE after it is installed in the
field. This is a concern because bridging does not require an IP address for
the CPE. However, Cisco CPEs can be provisioned with an IP address in bridging
mode. The NAP may use this feature to Telnet to the CPE to collect statistics
or to help the subscriber with troubleshooting. To allow CPEs to be managed
through the DSLAMs, new proxy element functionality is being added.
In bridging mode, if no management IP address is assigned to the CPE,
the operator can only manage the CPE through the CPE management port. If a
management IP address is assigned, the operator can use a Hypertext Transfer
Protocol (HTTP) browser to manage the device. However, this option is generally
When the CPE is in bridging mode, the service destination (which could
be the NSP/ISP) should provide an IP address that will be used as the default
gateway for the PCs behind the CPE. These PCs must be set to the correct
default gateway. Otherwise, even if the modem is trained (which means that the
physical layer is good between the CPE and the DSLAM), the subscriber may not
be able to pass traffic. This is not an issue if Dynamic Host Configuration
Protocol (DHCP) is used to assign subscriber DHCP addresses because the default
router is returned by the DHCP server.
RFC1483 Bridging: IP Management
In a bridged environment, the IP addresses are allocated to the end
stations by a DHCP server located at the service destination, usually in the
NSP/ISP network. This is the most common approach and is implemented by most
NSPs/ISPs using this model.
Another approach is to provide static IP addresses to the subscribers.
In this case, either a subnet of IP addresses or a single IP address is
allocated per subscriber, depending on the subscriber requirements. For
example, subscribers wanting to host a Web server or an email server will need
a set of IP addresses rather than a single IP address. The problem with this is
that the NSP/ISP has to provide public IP addresses and may quickly run out of
Some NSPs/ISPs have provided private IP addresses to their subscribers.
They then perform Network Address Translation (NAT) at the service destination
NSPs/ISPs that provide a full subnet for one bridge group (with more
than one subscriber) should know that one user can assign the wrong address to
a PC or Ethernet-attached device, such as a printer, and cause connection
problems for another user.
It is also possible for an NSP/ISP to restrict the number of PCs that
can access the service at one time. This is done by configuring the maximum
users on the Ethernet interface.
However, this method has the following flaw. If three PCs are
configured to use the service and one of the subscribers adds a network printer
(which has its own MAC address) during a time when one of the PCs is idle, the
PC's MAC address will disappear from the ARP entry of the CPE.
If the printer becomes active while a PC is idle, the printer?s MAC
address will be entered in the ARP entry. When a user decides to use this PC to
access the Internet, it will be unavailable because the CPE already has allowed
three MAC entries. The strategy of limiting users on the CPE can be used, but
care should be taken in fixing the numbers.
RFC1483 Bridging: End-to-End PVC
In an end-to-end PVC architecture with bridging, the service
destination is reached by the creation of PVCs between each hop. However,
management of these PVCs can be challenging for the NAP/NSP. Additionally, the
number of PVCs that can be defined through the ATM cloud is limited. This
limitation affects many of the NAPs/NSPs who adopt an end-to-end PVC model. For
each subscriber there will be a fixed, unique set of VPIs/VCIs along the entire
path. Switched virtual circuits (SVCs) help to overcome some of these problems,
and many access providers are migrating to IP-enabled core networks to solve
the problem of VC exhaustion.
The NSP/ISP also has the option of using the Cisco Service Selection
Gateway (SSG) functionality to provide different services to
In this architecture, secured access to a corporate gateway is achieved
by terminating the subscriber traffic PVC straight in the corporate router at
Layer 2. The PVC-based architectures are inherently secure when sharing data
with other service destinations.
RFC1483 Bridging: Operational Description
The Cisco 6xx CPE defaults to routing mode. Therefore, when it is
configured for bridging mode and installed at the subscriber's location with
the necessary splitters/microfilters, it trains up automatically upon power up.
When the CPE trains up, it indicates that the physical layer between the CPE
and DSLAM is fine. Depending on how the end station?s IP address is configured
(that is, whether it is assigned via a DHCP server or it is a static IP address
with default gateway information), it can then communicate with the service
Following is a description of the flow of packets.
The user's data is encapsulated in IEEE 802.3 from the PC and enters
the Cisco 6xx CPE. It is then encapsulated into an Logical Link
Control/Subnetwork Access Protocol (LLC/SNAP) header, which in turn is
encapsulated in ATM adaptation layer 5 (AAL5) and handed over to the ATM
The ATM cells are then modulated by the ADSL transmission technology,
Carrierless Amplitude and Phase (CAP) modulation or Discrete Multi-Tone (DMT),
and sent over the wire to the DSLAM. At the DSLAM, these modulated signals are
first received by the POTS splitter, which checks whether the frequency of the
signal is below or above 4 kHz. After it identifies the signals as above 4 kHz,
it passes them to the ADSL Transmission Unit - Central Office (ATU-C) in the
The ATU-C demodulates the signal and retrieves the ATM cells, which are
then passed to the network interface card (NIC) in the multiplexing device
(MUX). The NIC looks at the subscriber side VPI/VCI information in the ATM
header and makes the switching decision to another VPI/VCI which will be
forwarded to the service destination router. After the service destination
router receives these cells on a particular ATM interface, it re-assembles
them, looks at the upper layer, and passes the information to the BVI
interface. The BVI interface looks at the Layer 3 information and decides where
the packet is to be delivered.
The RFC1483 bridging model is more suitable for smaller ISPs or
corporate access for which scalability does not become an issue. Because it is
very simple to understand and implement, it has become the choice of many
smaller ISPs. However, as a result of some security and scalability issues,
bridging architecture is losing its popularity. NSPs/ISPs are opting for RBE or
moving toward PPPoA or PPPoE, which are highly scalable and very secure, but
more complex and difficult to implement.