Red hot Carrier Ethernet

Staff Writer
03 May 2007

Having resoundingly conquered the LAN space, Ethernet technology now is rapidly spreading its wings in the MAN and WAN markets and being considered for applications as disparate as the local loop, home networking, telematics and computer backplanes.

At the same time, the speed of Ethernet is being ramped up - toward the end of last year the IEEE agreed to aim at 100 Gbps as a target for its future evolution - and the protocol now finds itself being run over thick and thin coax, telephone pairs, cable TV networks, power line, optical fibers and wireless bearers.

It's not difficult to understand Ethernet's growing popularity. There are relatively low costs associated with its deployment and operation. It is easy to use and enjoys interoperability with installed LANs. It can carry different traffic types. And Ethernet is highly scalable and offers increasingly high-speed performance.

The Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) notes that the cost structure of Ethernet is shaped both by the considerable economies of scale that result from the near-ubiquitous enterprise LAN use of the technology and also by its relative technical simplicity. In general, the per-port price of new generation Ethernet equipment tends to be driven down to the level that triggered the mass adoption of the previous generation; at the point where that level is reached, the new generation becomes the subject of mass adoption, and the process repeats with the next generation.

Tipping point

This tipping point is currently being approached for Gigabit Ethernet, which some project will take the place of Fast Ethernet to become the Ethernet 'norm.' This is not necessarily all good news for Ethernet equipment vendors: as prices fall, the increase in volumes shipped may not compensate for the reduction in revenues. For example, Infonetics Research in a recent report calculated that in the year 2005 to 2006, worldwide Ethernet 10/100 port shipments grew 11% but switch revenue fell.

Ease of use and interoperability are other attributes for Carrier Ethernet. With Ethernet in both the LAN and MAN/WAN, the need for interworking at the CPE between, say, Ethernet and frame relay is removed. Configuration and ease of provisioning is also simplified.

Ethernet is able to carry voice, data and multimedia traffic, an increasingly important capability as the number of converged applications in the business, residential and mobile sectors multiplies.

Since it was, so to speak, sprung from the confines of the enterprise LAN, one of the most high profile and successful re-inventions of Ethernet has been as telco Carrier Ethernet.

Michael Howard, principal analyst at Infonetics Research, says growth in this area has been strong. 'Carrier Ethernet switch and router (CESR) manufacturer revenue worldwide grew an astounding 132% from 2005 to 2006, and will continue strong growth to $9.1 billion in 2010, a five-year CAGR of 16%,' says Howard. 'Carriers clearly want, and are deploying, Carrier Ethernet qualified routers and Ethernet switches. Meanwhile, other technologies are in decline, as worldwide spending on metro SONET/SDH equipment hit a peak in 2006, and will be lower than CESR in 2007, with a negative five-year CAGR through 2010.'

There may be even greater growth ahead. New MEF COO Kevin Vachon draws attention to the technology's massive untapped market potential beyond fiber infrastructure, and the role of Ethernet access via bonded copper, coax and wireless technologies, where Ethernet is '"&brkbar;the logical choice with no rival protocols on the horizon.'


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