The Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) has been working steadily with vendors and service providers to develop and prepare Ethernet as the most cost-efficient, easily managed telecom networking technology available. Significant energy, thought and engineering has gone into Carrier Ethernet’s definitions and protocols; when combined with Ethernet Operations, Administration and Maintenance (OAM) standards, service providers now have a full range of tools to deploy, maintain and monitor Ethernet in critical communications applications.
Analysts, customers, and service providers all see the benefits of Carrier Ethernet’s low cost per bit, simple integration into existing LANs, and bandwidth-satisfying scalability. There are debates and blogs and industry rivalries weighing the benefits of Ethernet to MPLS, but overall everyone agrees that Carrier Ethernet’s time has come. To be sure there is significant growth in Ethernet, but take a short tour of actual networks and you’ll still see a lot of SONET out there.
This makes sense, of course, Ethernet can be efficiently carried over SONET, and you get the benefits of resilience at the same time. If you’re turning up Ethernet one enterprise customer at a time there’s not enough “simultaneous greenfield” to justify forklifting your whole network to a pure Ethernet architecture. So what will it take to get Ethernet everywhere?
The change is in the air. Literally. 3G wireless services are building the critical mass of demand for resilient, low cost bandwidth that Carrier Ethernet needed to finally have its day. Tom Perrone, Engineering and Network Planning Manager at Fibertech, a leading all-fiber service provider covering 23 markets in the U.S. northeast has seen it first hand, “The demand for 3G wireless backhaul is industry changing. In the past 2G, they cell carriers concentrated on coverage, and the technology required a T1 or multiple T1s to service the cell site, and being that they were just getting off the ground and starting to build this network they would basically order a tariff T1, and they didn’t have really any other input than that. When they got to 3G they not only had a new technology, but they saw they had some volume – it actually enabled them to dictate what the requirements of their network was.
These demands upped the ante so that only the best-deployed Carrier Ethernet would do the job, as Perrone explains, “They want ultra-low latency, no dropped packets, they want protected equipment. I have seen everything from, amount of bits through to reportabiliy on a on a real time basis, and all they needed to do was send that out as the requirements and then see what comes back.”
And providers like Fibertech saw the opportunity, taking Ethernet into very large scale deployments. “It changed the industry, because the technology was out there, but because there wasn’t enough volume the carriers weren’t able to afford to make the change [to Carrier Ethernet. 3G wireless backhaul requirements] drove people like us to start to utilize that newer technology,” Perrone added, underlining that this growth in Ethernet is not from technology coming of age, it’s the killer app of 3G backhaul that was needed as a catalyst, “The reportability aspect and the dependability and the whole carrier grade Ethernet has probably been around for at least five years. No one has taken the leap, but these wireless projects are driving that.”
3G backhaul has given Ethernet center stage, not just in these applications, but in adjacent verticals too, as Perrone concludes, “if I’m [building a service that] requires reportability, dependability and reliability, I’m going to take that same process I’m giving to the wireless backhaul carrier and pass it on to my other customers as a value add. So, it’s really moving Ethernet from a once computer based connectivity to carrier grade communication, whether it’s video, voice, data, everything.”
So once providers have setup and mastered the back-office tools, the billing, the management and provisioning, it’s easy for them to offer Ethernet to other customers on their network: enterprises, health care, government and financial institutions, media companies – all consumers of large bandwidth where performance matters.
The next time you look at someone browsing the web on their phone, imagine the vast connectivity we’re all going to enjoy everywhere else – because 3G just gave Ethernet its big break.
Stay tuned to this blog in two weeks for a case study and video explaining how Fibertech entered into the wireless backhaul space and neatly dovetailed it into their existing business model.