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MPLS: Metro a No-Go?

Light Reading
9/27/2007
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What once looked like a walkover in the metro network sector has turned into a pitched battle – to the surprise, but not the delight, of those who saw Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) as the clear and obvious choice for metro transport.

Telecom equipment makers are urgently trying to convince potential customers to show their metro transport allegiance by committing to one of three technologies: MPLS; provider backbone transport (PBT) in the guise of provider backbone bridging (PBB) and traffic-engineered PBB (PBB-TE); or Transport MPLS (T-MPLS). At stake is a high-growth market emerging from the requirement to deliver high-quality services over an efficient, converged packet network infrastructure. And, as the latest edition of Light Reading Insider shows, MPLS may be losing this critical metro battle.

"MPLS vs. PBT: The Empire Strikes Back" takes a close look at MPLS technology and its potential future role in metro transport networking. It polls vendors' views about how close to the customer MPLS should be pushed and discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the technology. The report also looks at which of the three different transport networking approaches leading router and switch vendors recommend, and at the latest trends in the development of MPLS technology and the equipment using it.

A year or so ago, few thought MPLS would have any competition in metro transport. Firmly established as the dominant transport protocol in the network core, MPLS seemed well on its way to extending its reach into metro networks, and possibly even into access pipes all the way to the desktop. MPLS was the only technology that could meet the complex requirements of the metro and aggregation transport network environment and the multiplicity of broadband-enabled services being developed.

But a funny thing happened on the way to total domination: the stunning emergence of carrier Ethernet in metro networks. Carrier Ethernet vendors have challenged the authority and go-to-market strategies of entrenched suppliers selling IP/MPLS, including Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR). The carrier Ethernet camp contends that MPLS is too complex, too expensive, and too clunky for the metro environment. Instead, they have positioned carrier Ethernet, augmented by PBB and connection-oriented PBB-TE, for the application. They have promised simplicity, carrier-grade capability, and low cost. And their promises have found ears: Some large carriers have signed contracts for equipment, and others are understood to be very curious.

But the MPLS vendors have not given up the fight; indeed, their counter-initiatives are well underway, as documented in our report. They are offering new technology developments designed to streamline MPLS-based technology and how it can be used. They are working to improve cost-effectiveness. They have worked to closely associate MPLS QOS capabilities with the needs of a heavily loaded IPTV network. Some have developed a slimmer version of MPLS (in the form of T-MPLS). Their aim? To convince experienced routing engineers not to defect to the Ethernet side, and to convince Sonet/SDH engineers that they need to enter the world of MPLS routing.

MPLS vendors are not exactly fighting a rear-guard action. MPLS is entrenched in core networks, and it is not going to be displaced there for a long time to come. However, the fight for new territory will be fierce, and MPLS vendors will not be the sole overlords of the metro transport network. Carrier Ethernet is clearly here to stay, and Ethernet vendors have an opportunity to win significant market share. It is now a matter of which side can capture the most ground.

— Simon Sherrington, Analyst, Light Reading Insider


MPLS vs. PBT: The Empire Strikes Back, a 23-page report, is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Light Reading Insider, priced at $1,595. This report is available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.lightreading.com/insider.

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