IEEE 1588 Time Protocol Promises More Accurate Time Synchronisation

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Despite being around for over twenty years, the current favoured time protocol by most networks, NTP (Network Time Protocol) has some competition.

Currently NTP is used to synchonise computer networks using network time servers (NTP servers). Currently NTP can synchronise a computer network to a few milliseconds.

The Precision Time Protocol (PTP) or IEEE 1588 has been developed for local systems requiring very high accuracy (to nano-second level). Currently this type of accuracy is beyond the capabilities of NTP.

PTP requires a master and slave relation ship in the network. A two-step process is required to synchronise devices using the IEEE 1588 (PTP). First, determination of which device is the master is required then the offsets and natural network delays are measured. PTP uses the Best Master Clock algorithm (BMC) to establish which clock on the network is the most accurate and it becomes the master whilst all other clocks become slaves and synchronise to this master.

IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers) describes IEEE 1588 or (PTP) as designed to “fill a niche not well served by either of the two dominant protocols, NTP and GPS.  IEEE 1588 is designed for local systems requiring very high accuracies beyond those attainable using NTP. It is also designed for applications that cannot bear the cost of a GPS receiver at each node, or for which GPS signals are inaccessible.” (quoted in Wikipedia)

PTP can provide accuracy to a few nano-seconds but this type of accuracy is not required by most network users however, the target use of PTP appears to be mobile broadband and other mobile technologies as PTP supports time-of-day information, used by billing and service level agreement reporting functions in mobile networks.


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Richard N Williams is a technical author and a specialist in the NTP Server and Time Synchronisation industry. Richard N Williams on Google+