The idea is to use a single Ethernet pipe to carry multiple services, and MCI will employ packet-based VLANs (virtual LANs) to replace legacy TDM interfaces. Each service -- voice, data, etc. -- will be assigned its own VLAN link with dedicated capacity. All the customer's services would then be bundled onto the Ethernet pipe, creating a single interface out towards the MCI point of presence (see MCI Launches Packet Access).
Though many carriers are moving toward packet-based networks, MCI's plan is aggressive in its shift of carrier technology from legacy TDM network to Ethernet, according to some analysts.
"That idea of using Ethernet as a rider for other applications is something that I've never heard expressed in that way before," says Brian Washburn, analyst with Current Analysis. The dedicated-bandwidth link is particularly interesting, because it contrasts with the best-effort nature of most metro Ethernet services, he says.
The new initiative is part of MCI's Converged Packet Access, a strategy that involves migrating customers to purely packet services that traverse a converged network. The idea jibes with most carriers' views, in that it replaces the multiple networks for disparate services such as Asynchronous Transfer Mode (ATM) and Internet Protocol (IP), replacing them with a converged network using Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) to carry all traffic types (see Incumbents Converge on Convergence).
"Historically, carrier Ethernet has been delivered over SONET and SDH, but that limits the carrier's ability to exploit the statistical advantages of packet multiplexing," says Geoff Bennett, chief technologist of Heavy Reading, and author of a recent report on Ethernet Over IP/MPLS Service Delivery Platforms. "Ethernet over packet technology, driven by an MPLS control plane, means that carriers achieve better multiplexing economics. The customer benefits as well - a single link carrying all services gives lower overall communication costs and more flexibility to allocate bandwidth." (As it happens, Bennett is moderating a Light Reading webinar on this topic this Thursday, July 22. Click here for details.)
A bold move might be what's needed for MCI, which is likely to spend a long time wrestling with its tumultuous history (see MCI to Ebbers: Timberrr! and MCI Starts a New Chapter). Ethernet would certainly be a good place to stake a claim, as Ethernet services are catching on with service providers worldwide. A recent Heavy Reading survey of more than 300 enterprises indicates strong demand for Ethernet services (see Enterprises: We Want Our Ethernet!).
Among the benefits of packet-based access is flexibility, allowing customers to order up bandwidth on the fly -- in finer increments -- rather than being constrained by the traditional DS1 (1.544 Mbit/s) and DS3 (44.7 Mbit/s) boundaries of the legacy network, says Jack Wimmer, MCI's vice president of network architecture. The resulting infrastructure will also be cheaper for MCI to build and maintain.
Service levels can reach arbitrary speeds within the available Ethernet pipe and can dip down to the DS3 level. "They're not going to be constrained by fiber," Washburn says. "It's going to give them the opportunity to reach a lot more buildings."
MCI claims customers will be able to provision services in real time, although this capability isn't available yet. Officials say the only barrier to this capability so far is the creation of user portals to allow customers to make the changes on their own. That's a project for 2005, MCI officials say.
Wimmer notes that MCI did more than install off-the-shelf equipment and watch it run. MCI has worked with the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to develop standards in areas such as Ethernet pseudowires. "There are a lot of very interesting pieces under the covers that make this thing work end to end," Wimmer says.
MCI isn't saying which equipment vendors are benefitting from Converged Packet Access. What's for certain is that MCI has deployed a "Swiss Army Knife" of a box, incorporating a crossconnect and Sonet ADM, Washburn says [ed. note: but no ivory toothpick?]. While that would correlate with June rumors of an MCI win for Mahi Networks Inc., an MCI spokeswoman notes that Mahi is not being used in MCI's "core backbone network." (See Sources: Mahi Moves Include MCI Win.)
MCI's packet program starts with point-to-point Ethernet services in the U.S., available beginning today. MCI plans to extend these services to Europe late this year and to Asia in 2005.
As part of the Converged Packet Access launch, MCI announced that its Ethernet-based Internet access is now available in 25 cities, as opposed to just five previously. The company also added a few new speed grades for metro Ethernet lines, which now reach from 10 Mbit/s to 1 Gbit/s. Finally, MCI will begin offering Ethernet-based extensions for storage networking in September.
— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading
Light Reading Live! presents: 10-Gbit/s Ethernet Components: Ready for Prime Time
This one-day conference on Tuesday, August 17, will deliver a comprehensive review of the latest developments in 10-Gbit/s Ethernet, including: applications and technology; 10-GigE transponders/transceivers and PHY components; and 10-Gbit/s integrated switch chipsets for workgroup and backbone applications. Click here for more information.
For further education, visit the archives of related Light Reading Webinars:
- Ethernet Services: The Economics Behind the Myth
- Ethernet Services: What's in it for the Enterprise?
- The Service Edge
Executive Summaries of related Heavy Reading Reports:
- 2004 Enterprise User Survey on Ethernet Services
- Ethernet Over IP/MPLS Service Delivery Platforms: A Heavy Reading Competitive Analysis