What Is Data Communication? Basics to Know

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Data communication is the transfer and flow of data from one place to another. Learn all about how it works and careers in data communication.

[Featured Image] Networking cables connect in a server room.

Just like humans communicate in a variety of ways—by speaking, texting, and emailing—data similarly transfers from one place to another using different mediums. This process of moving electronic and digital data is called data communication.

In this article, we’ll go through the basics, such as types of data communication and networks, along with careers that typically require an understanding of data communication. 

What is data communication?

Data communication is the process of transferring data from one place to another or between two locations. It allows electronic and digital data to move between two networks, no matter where the two are located geographically, what the data contains, or what format they are in. 

A common example of data communication is connecting your laptop to a Wi-Fi network. This action requires a wireless medium to send and receive data from remote servers. 

The type of data transmission demonstrates the direction in which the data moves between the sender and receiver.

  • Simplex data transmission: Data is sent from sender to receiver

  • Half-duplex data transmission: Data can transmit both ways, but not simultaneously

  • Full-duplex data transmission: Data can transmit both ways at the same time

Full-duplex data transmission is the most common type found in computer networks. You may be familiar with some of the ways we use computer networks in our daily lives, such as communicating through instant messaging on Slack or video on Zoom or sharing files via tools like Apple’s AirDrop. 

Some different types of computer networks include:

  • Personal Area Network (PAN)

  • Local Area Network (LAN)

  • Campus Area Network (CAN)

  • Metropolitan Area Network (MAN)

  • Wide Area Network (WAN)

These computer networks indicate the geographic coverage. LAN, for example, refers to devices connected in a physical location, such as an office or apartment building.

Components of data communication 

A data communication system is comprised of the following: 

  1. Message: The data to be transmitted or communicated, which can include numbers, text, photos, sound, or video.

  2. Sender: The computer or device (e.g., phone, tablet) that sends the message.

  3. Receiver: The computer or device that receives the message, which can be different from the sender. 

  4. Medium: The channel through which the message is carried from sender to receiver, such as twisted pair wire, coaxial cable, fiber optic cable, or wireless.

  5. Protocol: The set of rules that govern the communication between computers. These rules are followed by both the sender and receiver.

Consider enrolling in Google’s Cybersecurity Professional Certificate to understand how to protect networks from cyberattacks:

Functions that a protocol performs

The protocol performs a variety of functions to carry out data communication. Here are just a few:

  • Data sequencing: Data sequencing breaks down a long message into smaller chunks called packets. Rules of data sequencing define how these packets of data are numbered to prevent losing or duplicating them. 

  • Data routing: Data routing rules define the most efficient route between sender and receiver.

  • Flow control: This protocol prevents a fast sender from overwhelming a slower receiver by regulating the flow of data, like a traffic controller.

  • Error control: These types of rules detect errors in messages and reroute messages to the correct receiver. Often, the message must be discarded by the receiver and reissued by the sender.

  • Order of transmission: This set of rules makes sure all the network nodes have access to the lines of communication based on priority (for example, chronological order of sent messages).

Careers in data communication

If you’re looking for a job that uses or works in data communication, here are some roles to consider.

Data communication analyst

A data communication analyst oversees the operations of information and network systems. After conducting research on which technologies will best suit a company's needs, these analysts are in charge of designing, testing and maintaining these systems.

  • Average annual salary: $97,500 [1]

  • Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, data science, computer science, or related field

Data communication engineer

A data communication engineer designs data communications services such as routers and network security systems. They may also implement and maintain VPN networks and multiprotocol label switching (MPLS).

  • Average annual salary: $104,774 [2

  • Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, data science, computer science, or related field, and certification in CompTIA’s Network+, CCNA, or MCSE

Network security engineer

A network security engineer is a cybersecurity professional who is in charge of protecting a company’s network and any devices linked to it. Security engineers make sure networks are free of malfunctions and destruction by implementing virus protection, troubleshooting the network for weak points, and creating safety protocols to prevent future cyberattacks or security breaches.

  • Average annual salary: $111,565 [3

  • Education requirements: Bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity, computer science, information technology, or related field

Learn on Coursera today

Start your journey into data communication by taking the course Fundamentals of Network Communication, part of the Computer Communications Specialization, from the University of Colorado. You’ll trace the evolution of networks, identify key concepts for architecture, look at examples of protocols and services, and how it all fits together in a network of data communication. Try a free 7-day trial of Coursera Plus today. 

Article sources


ZipRecruiter. “Data Communications Analyst Salary, https://www.ziprecruiter.com/Salaries/DATA-Communications-Analyst-Salary.” Accessed on September 22, 2023.

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