You may be wondering what all the hoopla is about Carrier Ethernet. After all, bonded T1, DS3 and SONET fiber optic services have been around for years and steadily decreasing in price. Do we really need yet another technical standard?
Yes, if for no other reason than Ethernet-everywhere is the future. The legacy transport technology, T1, DS3 and SONET, was developed by the telephone companies long before computer to computer communications became the dominant network traffic worldwide. As such, they are based on a design that makes it easy to carry lots and lots of small bandwidth telephone conversations. Each channel is 64 Kbps. You string together multiple channels, like cars on a freight train, to create T1 lines at 1.5 Mbps, DS3 bandwidth at 45 Mbps and SONET fiber optic services from 155 Mbps on up to 10 or 40 Gbps. That’s called TDM or Time Division Multiplexing.
Digitized phone calls are no longer the primary traffic carried on networks. Today it is data, VoIP voice and video. The protocols are all based on IP, a packet-switching technology that also forms the basis of Ethernet. Thus, in the modernization of networks to support packet protocols rather than switched circuit TDM, the core networks are being re-engineered to support IP directly. Carrier Ethernet has emerged as a standard carrier service to replace the earlier telco-provided options.
Solidifying this move to Carrier Ethernet is the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF). This is the standards body that provides the technical specs to ensure that providers are compatible with one another. Otherwise, you’d have chaos and few networks could connect to each other to exchange traffic.
That’s one of the big secrets driving Carrier Ethernet. The MEF has defined a E-NNI or Ethernet Network to Network Interface standard. Any carrier that implements E-NNI can easily exchange traffic with other E-NNI carriers so that each expands its reach into the other’s territory. This turns many small regional or national carriers into much larger worldwide carriers without the need for every provider to have assets in every possible location.
Most carriers are in an expansion mode now. Two notable ones are tw telecom and Integra Telecom. tw telecom is now offering national Ethernet service that includes their E-Access product, a “one to many” connection. This is particularly valuable to content producers and others who need to distribute large amounts of data quickly and at reasonable cost. As a wholesale service, it is also valuable to carriers who want to connect to businesses nationwide without having to build their own fiber plants.
Integra Telecom is now offering E-LAN or Ethernet LAN service. This is a standardized MEF Ethernet service that offers multipoint to multipoint Layer 2 VPN. Connecting multiple LANs at multiple locations at the OSI Layer 2 level allows corporations and others to create large bridged networks that include locations all over the country.
Other providers offer low latency fiber optic connections to Europe and Asia from the United States. Running point to point Ethernet connection or E-LAN allows multinational corporations to easily do business worldwide.
Would you be interested in the improved performance and lower cost of Carrier Ethernet services? You’ll likely find that the Carrier Ethernet Provider expansions of recent years give you more options than you might expect.