Metro Ethernet Gathers Momentum

Verizon has put its weight behind the Metro Ethernet Forum, which should accelerate Ethernet service rollouts

March 6, 2003

3 Min Read
Metro Ethernet Gathers Momentum

The Ethernet services bandwagon gathered momentum this week, with yesterday's announcement that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has become a member of the Metro Ethernet Forum (see Verizon, Rockefeller Join MEF).

Verizon joins some other monster carriers already in the MEF, including BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS), SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: FON). Together, they account for $148 billion in revenues, compared to about $225 billion for the eight largest North American carriers tracked in Light Reading's Optical Oracle subscription research service.

With such powerful carriers behind it, the MEF stands a good chance of achieving its goal of accelerating the rollout of Ethernet services by standardizing their specification.

"Everybody will be talking the same language," says Bob Smith, BellSouth's senior director of data product management, who is a director of the MEF. There'll be less confusion if service providers use the same terminology when talking to customers, so adoption rates should be quicker. It should also accelerate development of network equipment for providing services, because vendors won't have to cater to such a wide range of requirements.

Smith goes on to say that BellSouth is overhauling its infrastructure right now so that it can upgrade Ethernet services it's been offering since 1994. The new service set will be based on "some" of MEF's specifications, he adds.

The MEF is defining two types of service -- Ethernet LAN (E-LAN), providing multipoint private networks between corporate sites, and Ethernet Line (E-Line), giving customers high-speed access to the public Internet.

It's also defining a whole bunch of performance parameters. Some of them, such as committed information rate (CIR -- minimum guaranteed bandwidth), are borrowed from Frame Relay terminology. Others define such things as delay and jitter, with an eye to users running voice and video as well as data over their E-LANs.

Right now, the specs are still under development, but earlier this week, MEF president Nan Chen set a target of August of this year for their finalization (see MEF Starts Ethernet Countdown).

It's worth pointing out that the MEF's specs are for Ethernet services where customers contend for bandwidth on a shared backbone in the same way that they do in Frame Relay networks. Hence the use of terms like CIR.

Right now, the majority of users of Ethernet services aren't contending for bandwidth. Typically, they're looking for something that's equivalent to a leased line and simple to understand, so they opt for having bandwidth dedicated to them -- akin to constant bit rate (CBR) in ATM networks.

Some Ethernet service providers, such as the U.K.'s Neosnetworks, only offer dedicated bandwidth services at present. "We may want to offer more sophisticated services in the future," says Paul Momtahan, Neosnetworks product marketing manager. When that happens, the MEF specs might come in handy.

Denmark's Butler Networks offers contended and dedicated bandwidth Ethernet service options. Right now, most customers opt for dedicated bandwidth services, says Henrik Vestergaard, the firm's manager director. However, he thinks the MEF specs will help persuade customers to try contended services, which ought to be less expensive. "It'll help customers understand what they're buying, and help them compare services from different providers." (Butler Networks is something of an oddity, by the way. It's one of the few Ethernet service providers to link to customers using LMDS fixed wireless.)

The MEF specs might also come in handy when operators jointly offer Ethernet services, notes Andreu Vilamitjana, director of marketing at Al-Pi Telecomunicacions, a Barcelona-based operator offering Ethernet services based on equipment from Atrica Inc. (see Atrica Wins in Europe). "Sooner or later we'll have to interconnect with other operators," notes Vilamitjana. Having the same service specs might make that a lot easier.

— Peter Heywood, Founding Editor, Light Reading

Editor’s note: Light Reading is not affiliated with Oracle Corporation

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