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What Is Parallel Communication?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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Parallel communication is a process that is utilized to make more efficient use of resources by managing communication processes together rather than separately. This approach can often make it easier to handle communication channels that involve relatively short distances in a manner that makes better use of the resources that support the communication effort. Originally developed as an efficient solution for one-way communication, parallel communication today allows for both inbound and outbound high-speed communications between two points.

As a method that involves wiring to manage the process of sending and receiving different types of data, parallel communication normally devotes some wires to outbound transmissions and others to inbound transmissions. The proximity of the wiring is usually very close, with the collection of wires running parallel to one another. When the signal used for the transmissions is strong, the end result is a high level of clarity in voice transmissions as well as the quick transference of other data without any real delays. Since the quality of the signal will decrease with distance, the use of this method for transferring any type of data is usually kept to a minimum.

At the same time, weak signals or damaged wires involved in the process of parallel communication can sometimes lead to a phenomenon known as crosstalk, in which a signal may bleed into a different wire and corrupt the communication. Crosstalk is sometimes found in audio conference calls in which this type of poor connection results in crosstalk bleeding from one conference to another. Fortunately, monitoring of the trunks or lines used for each call can normally isolate the crosstalk to a single line, disconnect it from the conference and then reconnect the attendee using a different trunk, eliminating the problem.

Along with voice communications, parallel communication also occurs with the transference of data. A common example has to do with sending data to a printer. When the process is initiated, the software driving the communication between a hard drive and a printer aids in transmitting the data in a stable form that is recognized by the printer. If the communication is successful, the printer transmits what is sometimes referred to as a handshake, essentially signaling the hard drive that the receipt of the data was complete and successful. From there, the printer will proceed to print out the information sent. When this process is working properly, the process of parallel communication is completed within seconds.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including EasyTechJunkie, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By NathanG — On Nov 13, 2011

@David09 - Yes, that’s how the old modems used to work too. They dial a number and then when they connect you get the familiar “handshake” sound and you’re connected. From there after you’re pretty much doing communications through serial communications not parallel.

By David09 — On Nov 12, 2011

Parallel communication is more or less phased out in the consumer sphere. USB has replaced it.

There are more ancient technologies than parallel communication, however, and they are still being used today in the industrial sector.

I work in the utility industry and we often have to connect to relay equipment to transmit test sequences. For many of these devices we have to use a rs232 serial port to send bits of data, in and out, one bit at a time.

There’s two-way communication, but only one equipment can “talk” at a time, kind of like a walkie-talkie. The computer talks first, sending commands, and then the relay responds sending its results. It’s really the only way to do this kind of communication for the kind of testing that we do.

By ddljohn — On Nov 12, 2011

@alisha-- That's true. I work for IBM, and IBM was the founder of parallel port communication and it was an important step for the company. But there were some issues with this system, I think the biggest one was the fact that data communication could not take place in both directions.

That's why IBM developed the Enhanced Parallel Port (EPP) that allowed communication to take place in both directions and data to be transferred simultaneously as the command is given by the computer.

With parallel communication, printers had to remain in a close proximity to computers to work and it took a long time for data to get transferred and for printing to start. Now, printers can be on the other side of a building and will start printing immediately after we hit 'print.'

By discographer — On Nov 11, 2011

@fify-- No, parallel communication is for transferring data and is used in computers and printers generally. It's true that it's not used as much anymore because there are now high-speed ports that transfer data much faster.

Parallel communication was a much better alternative to serial communication when it came out though. Parallel communication is more or less eight times faster than serial communication. It's true that lines can get mixed in parallel communication and that can impact the quality and speed to some extent. Like I said though, they're not in use anymore so there isn't much of an issue about it.

By fify — On Nov 11, 2011

Is this why in some movies, a third caller joins a phone conversation accidentally and everyone is confused about who is speaking to whom?

I've always wondered how this could be possible but apparently, it can happen when there is parallel communication. I don't think this is used anymore for phones but I bet it was interesting and a bit annoying to try and communicate through parallel port communication when it was used.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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