Carrier Ethernet catches on in emerging markets

In an industry that’s always looking forward to the newest developments, saying that a technology is ‘mature’ could be considered a slight. However, far from being outdated, some technologies simply need a bit of time to grow before they can flourish, and the prevalence of carrier Ethernet services shows that this technology has well and truly arrived. With an established set of standards and a raft of benefits to operators, Ethernet services are an increasingly attractive prospect for players in emerging markets.

There has been a general recognition of the maturity of the Ethernet business services market; various analysts are of the opinion that Ethernet has overtaken the legacy TDM services in terms of uptake around the world, says Mervyn Kelly of networking specialist Ciena. Both standards and service offerings have matured considerably, so this is not surprising.

The standards of carrier Ethernet are clearly defined by bodies such as the Metro Ethernet Forum as enterprise-class Ethernet with attributes such as protection, QoS etc. Since defining these standards, the MEF has moved on to defining standards around mobile backhaul and multiple carrier interoperability.

Kevin Morgan of network equipment provider Adtran agrees that Ethernet’s maturity as a technology elevates its business case: “There are well-defined industry standards in place for carrier-class Ethernet, outlined by industry bodies such as the MEF, and these are well understood by both equipment and service providers. The language which service providers use to communicate their business value to an end-user enterprise is very well-understood; measurements such as reliability, survivability, uptime and delay have a clearly defined meaning to the enterprise consumers.”

This lexicon of terms helps the industry understand how to consume Ethernet-based services; for example, the difference between copper, fibre and legacy TDM connections is clearly understood. In terms of data rates, Ethernet provides alternatives above traditional private-line services as well as providing a competitive alternative to residential DSL. It provides a guaranteed service level agreement, and the way the service is communicated and implemented makes it more viable to the market.

It’s now becoming important for providers to differentiate their services to their end customers, who are increasingly demanding fast turn-up, high quality SLAs etc. Kelly notes that this makes it important to take a holistic approach to differentiation based on the end customer experience.

“The definition of an Ethernet service is now clear”, he says. “The issue is how it is applied. Most contemporary 3G base stations have Ethernet connections to them for backhaul, while LTE is by definition packet-based and has to have a packet backhaul solution.”

Bandwidth is growing very quickly; from a business point of view, 100Mbps is the minimum currency, although this could soon grow to 1Gbps. The cost point between the optics on the two is negligible, so it makes more sense to use a customer premises device with a Gigabit interface, and then throttle the bandwidth from a network management system.

“From the residential perspective, we’re seeing those sorts of bandwidths through fibre-to-the-home. With FTTH, the challenge is the last-mile rollout. To some extent, there is the attitude that if you’re deploying fibre, you may as well deploy 100Mbps, but the rollout can be fairly slow so there are a lot of temporary fixes, such as VDSL which can achieve 25–30 Mbps”, notes Kelly.

Vectored DSL - which provides the possibility to provide 100Mbps over a single copper pair - is becoming increasingly prominent, along with other improved technologies. Innovations such as these allow larger carriers to continue using their existing installed base of copper facilities, as well as allowing them to roll out deep fibre projects in their wire centres.

A lot of service providers – and regulatory policy-makers – across the world have stated their objective of providing 100Mb to the home by 2020. The options for reaching 100Mb today are all fibre-based; improvements such as vectoring are currently being made to copper-based products will also enable service providers to meet these goals in the next few years. While fibre-to-the-home is currently the best way of connecting, the business case will typically only hold up around 50% of the time.

Developing nations are not pursuing this timeframe as aggressively, but bandwidth consumption is certainly being driven by the available devices and applications. Networks are being accented in a variety of ways using various technologies; copper and fibre are common but wireless is the most widespread in emerging markets. People want bandwidth in ways they can depend on – in terms of both business and residential customers, the demand for bandwidth is growing worldwide. Offerings now have to be triple-play - voice, video and data – and the data component needs to be significant.

The end customer increasingly wants their service within days rather than weeks – for a vendor, this means deploying the right equipment for the right size of site, providing fast service turn-up and changing service rates according to the customer’s wishes. Sending out trucks for provisioning is not an option as the process has to be fast and easy.

While eliminating the need for provisioning has the knock-on benefit of reducing costs for the service provider, there are other means of reducing expenditure. One of these is the increasing prevalence of what Kelly terms the ‘zero-touch setup’: equipment that can be plugged in by anyone, that then auto-discovers and automatically downloads the service profile for the end customer.

Such solutions do not require skilled technicians to install them, which is a key advantage; particularly in emerging markets, it’s difficult to find technicians with the requisite skills without training them. Therefore, it is much more advantageous if a solution can be installed easily, simply by plugging in a cable.

Ultimately though, the ease of installation is just one benefit among many. Carrier Ethernet services provide a convenient way of differentiating the end user experience, helping providers deliver bandwidth and data rates to meet demand – and the fact that its certification standards are recognised across the industry will only lead to further adoption in the future.

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