So what exactly is Multiprotocol Label Switching?

Multiprotocol label switching. Your IT director talks about it a lot, but you still have no idea what it means. You’ll pick it up eventually though, right?… right?

What is MPLS (multiprotocol label switching)? We'll break down the basics of how it works with your business internet connection.Sometimes us IT folks forget that all these tech terms and acronyms (MPLS, IP VPN.. the list goes on) may not be so obvious to the average employee. But time is short, so here’s a high-level overview of what MPLS is and how it works to help you get through your next meeting.


What is MPLS?

Contrary to what you might think, Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) is not a type of internet connection (like fiber or bonded internet), but instead a “technique”.

SearchEnterpriseWAN defines MPLS as “a protocol for speeding up and shaping network traffic flows”, which essentially means MPLS sorts and prioritizes your data packets (those little tidbits of information travelling through the world wide web, kind of like toppings on a hamburger) based on their class of service (e.g. IP phone, video, or skype data).

iTel Networks MPLS Data Prioritization Chart - Voice and video, critical applications, and general traffic

Your available usable bandwidth increases and your critical applications like voice and video are guaranteed 100% uptime.

How does MPLS work?

So we know that MPLS is a packet-labelling technique that prioritizes data, but how does it actually work?

Think of MPLS like mailing a package:

For most connections, networks need to look inside every data packet at each router to know where it’s going. It’s like having to look inside a shipped package at every post office along the way to find out its final destination.

An ingress router with MPLS will label data packets (mail packages) on entry to the network (post offfice), so routers (mail workers) know exactly where the data is going without having to open the package again and again.

Ready to kick butt at the next meeting with your IT Director?

To make sure you really shine, here’s a 5-minute clip from CBT Nuggets explaining MPLS and how it differs from a Virtual Private Network.