NGN spurs move to Carrier Ethernet

01 Feb 2006

Carrier Ethernet is swiftly becoming this year's must-have solution for telcos as they prepare to revamp their networks for triple-play and convergence - even though concerns remain about its complexity and carrier-class capabilities

Carrier Ethernet's new popularity

  • Sales to grow over 75% through 2008
  • From access/metro to transport layer
  • Triple-play and other drivers
  • Carrier-class = complex
  • MEF certification now in play
  • OA&M capabilities still needed

The vision of Ethernet playing a significant role in the future NGN has been around for years and has never been in serious doubt - although perhaps not to the point of killing off Sonet/SDH any time soon, or even in the next ten years. But with every passing quarter, you'll find more Ethernet running somewhere in someone's network than you did the last time you checked.

Indeed, over the last few years Ethernet has gained significant ground in wide area networks at the expense of frame relay and ATM, and it's becoming increasingly more common in metro networks for broadband access and VPN services.

It's also gone global with the arrival of VPLS. International carriers like Asia Netcom, AT&T, BT and MCI (now the property of Verizon), among others, are offering global Ethernet either on a retail or wholesale basis. Last month, Hong Kong's Hutchison Global Communications extended its VPLS-based Ethernet service (which already links Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan) to the US via a deal with Broadwing Communications. US metro Ethernet carrier Yipes spent last year expanding its reach into Asia through partnerships with Asia Netcom in Hong Kong and Japan (where it also has KVH as a partner).

Yipes marketing VP Keao Caindec says that Ethernet is mainstream - 'well beyond the early adopter stage.' He puts growth at 30% a year, the bulk of it coming from Europe and Asia.

'The reasons are pretty obvious,' he says. 'The traditional telco's network is filled with Sonet/SDH, routers, CSUs/DSUs, they have long provision times and their networks aren't as flexible.'

The next step is Ethernet in the transport layer. For that to happen, telcos need Carrier Ethernet - that is, Ethernet with all of the usual benefits (i.e. relatively simple, ubiquitous and cheap) but with carrier-class capabilities.

The idea's been around for years, but it's been slow in coming. Reasons vary, but they essentially boil down to the dot-com bubble bust forcing carriers to be more judicious with their capex, and a lack of official consensus on just how to make Ethernet carrier-class.

Recent analyst reports, however, suggest that the Carrier Ethernet market is finally starting to get into gear. Technical issues still remain, and some operators aren't yet 100% convinced that Carrier Ethernet can match or beat Sonet/SDH for reliability, OA&M and QoS. But that's not stopping them from buying.

Riding the NGN wave

For example, Infonetics Research said in a new report last month that carriers worldwide are now making major investments to converge their data networks in response to changing traffic patterns and apps. One of the top three drivers alongside broadband access and IP-VPNs: metro Ethernet.

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