What is MPLS? A Simple Explanation

MPLS stands for ‘multiprotocol label switching’; it’s a technique that can be used to ensure you’re making the most of your available bandwidth, and not ‘wasting’ bandwidth on unnecessary tasks. There’s a lot of technical and in depth information around detailing what MPLS is and how it works, but right now let’s strip everything back to basics and take a look at the simplest MPLS explanation.

If you’re completely new to MPLS, or don’t have a particularly strong understanding of IT protocols, then this is designed to provide you with the basics of MPLS in a simple and straightforward way.

Consider this…

You drive up to the car park of a large indoor shopping centre you’ve never visited before. There’s not only multiple entrances to the precinct, but there’s also many different ways to get from where you are now to the shop that you want to go to. At each fork in the path that you come to, you need to check the signs and make a decision about which way to go in order to get to your destination in the quickest way.

Data does the same thing. Data may have an address so it knows where it has to end up, but it doesn’t know how to get there. Instead, it does what we would do in an unknown shopping centre; it reads the signs at every fork it comes to. This slows the data down, meaning that you’re not getting the most from your available bandwidth. This is where MPLS can help; it essentially acts as a built-in map for data.


What it all comes down to is labelling. MPLS assigns labels to each data packet, so that when the data hits a router, a switch, or a hub, the hardware can read the label and instantly send the data on its way in the correct direction. There can be a number of labels assigned to the data, helping it along at every step of the way. It’s the same as us having different pieces of paper that tell us which way to turn at each fork, without us having to physically stand there and read the signposts in front of us. Ultimately, it saves time.

Of course, there is much, much more to MPLS than this basic information, but these basics should give you a better idea of what MPLS is, how it works, and why it might help your business to thrive.

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