In the context of computer networking, frame relay (also found written as "frame-relay") consists of an efficient data transmission technique used to send digital information quickly and cheaply in a relay of frames to one or many destinations from one or many end-points. Network providers commonly implement frame relay for voice and data as an encapsulation technique, used between local area networks (LANs) over a wide area network (WAN). Each end-user gets a private line (or leased line) to a frame-relay node. The frame-relay network handles the transmission over a frequently-changing path transparent to all end-users.
As of 2006 native IP-based networks have gradually begun to displace frame relay. With the advent of MPLS, VPN and dedicated broadband services such as cable modem and DSL, the end may loom for the frame relay protocol and encapsulation. There remain, however, many rural areas lacking DSL and cable modem services, and in such cases the least expensive type of "always-on" connection remains a 128-kilobit frame-relay line. Thus a retail chain, for instance, may use frame relay for connecting rural stores into their corporate WAN.
Frame relay has its technical base in the older X.25 packet-switching, designed for transmitting analog data such as voice conversations. Unlike X.25, whose designers expected analog signals, frame relay offers a fast packet technology, which means that the protocol does not attempt to correct errors. When a frame relay network detects an error in a frame, it simply "drops" that frame. The end points have the responsibility for detecting and retransmitting dropped frames. (However, digital networks offer an incidence of error extraordinarily small relative to that of analog networks.)
Frame relay often serves to connect local area networks (LANs) with major backbones as well as on public wide-area networks (WANs) and also in private network environments with leased lines over T-1 lines. It requires a dedicated connection during the transmission period. Frame relay does not provide an ideal path for voice or video transmission, both of which require a steady flow of transmissions. However, under certain circumstances, voice and video transmission do use frame relay.