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CenturyLink Outlines Its Network Vision

Jeff Baumgartner
News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

NEW YORK -- Ethernet Expo 2012 -- CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) is using Ethernet as a unifying thread as it converges its multiple networks in a way that establishes a "service-agnostic" platform.

So stated Bennett Gamel, the operator's director of product and business development, during a keynote presentation Wednesday that outlined the company's network plan and elements of its service roadmap.

Having grown considerably during the past few years following a number of high-profile acquisitions (including Embarq, Qwest Communications and cloud services specialist Savvis), the operator is looking to unify its infrastructure and operate a common platform. (See CenturyLink Clouds Up With Savvis Buy, Qwest, CenturyLink Plan $22.4B Marriage and CenturyTel + Embarq = CenturyLink.)

"Ethernet and cloud service applications are becoming intertwined," Gamel said.

That integration is well underway, with CenturyLink basing its Ethernet developments around the MEF 2.0 specifications (Requirements and Framework for Ethernet Service Protection): the operator intends to use Ethernet as both a product and as a means to enable other products and apps, noted Gamel.

The plan is to ensure that everything is interoperable to help CenturyLink establish interconnects that can turn it into a national provider with global ambitions.

Gamel outlined a handful of ways CenturyLink is evolving its transport and broadband access networks. On the transport end, it's in the process of moving to 100Gbit/s in its metro and long-haul networks, consolidating its legacy ATM/Sonet and Ethernet networks, and establishing MPLS as the control plane to deliver common services end-to-end. Oh, and it's doing all that while also integrating its cloud platform.

On the broadband access end, it's expanding its fiber deployments, though it won't abandon its copper networks, as CenturyLink will continue to update them by expanding deployments of VDSL2 and bonded VDSL2, as well as ADSL2+ and bonded ADSL2+.

But CenturyLink will aim to make the network services agnostic by consolidating everything on Ethernet wherever possible, with the goal of normalizing all services "after the access port," Gamel explained. Ethernet, he added, "will serve to simplify and aggregate" services.

It's also working toward the development of a "Virtual Service Platform," whereby multiple network applications and services, including IPTV, cloud, CDN (content delivery network) and IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) capabilities, would be virtualized and linked to the underlying physical infrastructure using software-defined networking (SDN) techniques.

At this point in the process, though, this is CenturyLink's vision quest. "It's not all there today, but that's the direction we're heading," he said, noting later that CenturyLink expects to be far enough along that ATM "will disappear" within a year or so.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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