What’s solidified Ethernet in the LAN for now and the foreseeable future is economy of scale. Nearly every piece of networking gear you can buy has standard copper or fiber Ethernet connectors. The most popular of these, of course, is the RJ-45 connector. You recognize it immediately without even having to look at the legends near the connector or any equipment manuals. Within the organization, everything plugs into Ethernet sockets to connect to the network.
The big disconnect occurs when you want your traffic to leave the confines of your building or campus. You might find a contractor who will interconnect businesses within an office or industrial park, but that’s about as far as you can install private network cable. You might get a little farther with optical line of sight or microwave wireless transmissions. However, if you want to be able to connect to the Internet or establish a private network around town or across the country, you need to use a telecom carrier.
The first carriers were local telephone companies. Today’s ILECs or Incumbent Local Exchange Carriers offer far more than telephone service. They have twisted pair copper bundles running to every home and business. They also generally have fiber optic cabling for their own use and to lease to major businesses. These services have their own unique protocols invented by the telephone industry to transport phone calls. Copper data transmissions use T-Carrier, such as T1 or T3. Fiber optic transmissions use SONET (Synchronous Optical NETwork) standards, such as OC-3, OC-12 and OC-48.
How do you connect an Ethernet protocol network to a T-Carrier or SONET protocol carrier? Very carefully! You need what’s called a protocol converter. This is generally in the form of a plug-in module for your router. The conversion process changes the signals and timing of one protocol to another so that they can exchange digital data.
This conversion process has worked well for decades, so why change it? The reasons are efficiency, new services and cost.
What’s happened is that new competitive carriers have emerged. These carriers don’t have the legacy of telephone company standards to support and have embraced IP networking for their regional and nationwide fiber optic networks. Since your network runs Ethernet and their network runs Ethernet, it seems logical to interconnect them via Ethernet.
The standardization of what’s called Carrier Ethernet by the industry standards group, Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), has opened the door to handing off network traffic from business to carrier and between carriers within the Ethernet protocol. Getting rid of the conversions makes the process more efficient. More importantly, it has made possible services that you can’t get on the old telco networks. Notably, these are E-Line or Ethernet Line service and E-LAN or Ethernet LAN service. The difference is that E-Line connects two locations and E-LAN can connect multiple locations in a mesh network.
By keeping everything as Ethernet, it is now possible to bridge LANs at two or more locations at the layer 2 level using Ethernet switches. Essentially, you take all these individual LANs and join them to form one much larger corporate LAN.
Another advantage of using Carrier Ethernet to transport your traffic is that it was designed from the beginning to be easily scalable in much finer increments than the telco protocols. You install a port, say 100 Mbps, 1000 Mbps or 10 GigE, that sets the maximum bandwidth of your connection. However, you don’t need to order the highest speed that the circuit will support you can start off at a quarter or half of that and then increase your bandwidth when needed. Often, all that is needed is a call to your Ethernet service provider. The change can be implemented in hours or days because there are no equipment swaps that need to be made.
Finally, Carrier Ethernet has a significant cost advantage compared to bonded T1, T3 (DS3) bandwidth and SONET services. On a per-Mbps basis, Ethernet often costs just half of what you pay for the older technologies. That mean you can save money for the company on your next telecom contract or double your bandwidth for the same budget.
Does long range Ethernet meet your needs? A good way to find out is to get competitive quotes for both traditional bandwidth and Carrier Ethernetservices and compare cost and features.