PBB-TE: not dead yet

17 Nov 2008

The emergence of MPLS-TP hasn't killed off prospects for PBB-TE, according to vendors who say their customers need Carrier Ethernet solutions today that work with legacy gear at a decent price point.

Equipment vendors have been squaring off over how to give Carrier Ethernet connection-oriented capabilities at the transport layer, with the debate centered on whether to use MPLS or native Ethernet technology (PBB-TE). The emergence of MPLS-TP earlier this year from the ITU-T and IETF saw several vendors backing away from the IEEE's PBB-TE in favor of the MPLS version.

But PBB-TE champions like Nortel argue that MPLS-TP is too far down the pipeline, and carriers need Carrier Ethernet for their metro networks sooner than MPLS-based solutions can deliver.

We've had service providers look at pseudowire vs MPLS-based backhaul for the mobile base stations and tell us point-blank they won't do MPLS because the cost doesn't work for them,' said Anup Changaroth, Asia director of metro Ethernet networks for Nortel Networks on the sidelines of the Carrier Ethernet World APAC conference Friday.

Changaroth added that carriers in India have to upgrade their backhaul capacity quickly, but can't afford expensive MPLS solutions because their ARPU levels are low.

'They told us, if you can give us a Carrier Ethernet platform that can match the price point of an STM-1/4 box with ten times the capacity, I'll interested, and I don't care if it runs on MPLS, PBB or whatever,' he told telecomasia.net. 'Carriers in Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, have consistently told us the same thing.'

Pro-MPLS supporters argue that it's not just a matter of low-cost solutions.

'PBB may be a cheaper technology, but if you look at TCO of convergence, MPLS may not be the cheapest for a specific service, but overall, across all the services you offer over it, it is more cost-effective,' said Victor Zhang director for solution marketing for the IP division at Alcatel-Lucent Asia-Pacific during a spirited panel discussion on the subject.

Brendan Leitch, director of service provider marketing at Juniper Networks, added the goal of metro Ethernet is to gain better control over the services running over it.

'You have to tie the applications to the network to make them perform better because that's your service differentiator and that's where you're going to make your revenue,' Leitch said. 'Any transport technology that doesn't break through to the app layer can't give you that. You can't isolate the carrier from the apps, you have to tie it to them end-to-end.'

Changaroth, participating in the same panel, admitted that 'there's not a lot of intelligence there with PBB-TE, but the idea of adding intelligence to apps‾ It's a great vision, but for now it's all sizzle, no steak.'

Leitch also argued that it made more sense to extend the MPLS control plane to the metro than run hybrid control planes with MPLS in the core and PBB in the metro.

Changaroth allowed that hybrid networks do present integration challenges, but Tier 1 service providers have based their business models around separate access and core networks for years.

Sony Kogin, senior product marketing manager for Redback Networks, said that a hybrid approach is a realistic compromise between full-on transport networks that lack service scalability and all-IP networks that disrupt a proven operational model and require a 'leap of faith'.

'Customers are searching for ways to get extra mileage out of legacy networks, so the best solution for them is a hybrid model that supports legacy infrastructure and services that carriers aren't going to shut off for years anyway,' he said.

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