Cable Tech

Startups Rally 'Round EFM

Startups peddling point-to-point Ethernet are hoping to get a standards boost next week, as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) appears ready to ratify the Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM) standard.

The IEEE 802.3ah Task Force has completed its work on the standard, which is expected to be ratified at next week's IEEE Standards Board meetings. Assuming the board gives 802.3ah the big thumbs up, the only step remaining would be for the task force to submit its final report.

EFM was intended to provide point-to-point Ethernet links, via copper or fiber, to homes and businesses -- an alternative to DSL, cable modems, and T1 lines. Ethernet-based passive optical networking (EPON) was tacked on during the standards process. The 802.3ah group also considered operations, administration, and maintenance (OAM) issues (see First-Mile Ethernet Enters Home Stretch).

Products based on 802.3ah are already hitting the market, as the standard has been frozen from major changes for some time. Still, the formal approval, combined with what's likely to be the busiest Supercomm in years, has startups charged up.

That's particularly true on the point-to-point side, which offers a broadband access analogue to the Ethernet connections found in offices. Unlike an EPON, which uses passive components to split one Ethernet signal among multiple clients, point-to-point Ethernet would more closely resemble a T1 line. Targeted at businesses more than residences, point-to-point Ethernet would be symmetric, usually at speeds faster than a T1 but slower than OC3.

The idea, of course, is to be cheaper than T1. "The common view is that the [Ethernet] customer is going to pay less per Mbit than they do for T1, but they're going to pay more per month," says Kevin Sheehan, CEO of Hatteras Networks Inc. For example, someone paying $400 per month for a T1 line could be switched to a 5-Mbit/s Ethernet service at $500 or $600 per month.

The hope is that Ethernet will become an upgrade alternative, based on the argument that it's better than adding more T1s. "Historically, multiple T1s or E1s are done with IMA [inverse multiplexing over ATM], whereby the slowest pair of a bonded group dictates the speed of all adjacent pairs," Sheehan says.

Here's what a few of the Ethernet hopefuls will be showing at Supercomm:

  • Amedia Networks will demonstrate three systems aimed at delivering 100-Mbit/s connections: the Aggregation Switch 5000, a two-rack-unit box supporting 48 connections from the central office; the CoreSwitch 1200, an environmentally hardened box for outdoors; and the PG1000 four-port gateway for the customer premises. CEO Frank Galuppo says products should be available in production in about two months. (See Amedia Announces FTTP Kit.)

  • Covaro Networks Inc. is tackling both the copper and fiber sides of first-mile Ethernet. Last week the company formally launched products it's talked about since last summer: the CC-101 customer premises box for copper access and the CC-16000 central-office system, which aggregates both copper and fiber connections. (See Covaro Extends Copper Ethernet and Covaro 'Jacks' Ethernet.)

  • Hatteras likewise debuted its products last week. The HN400 sits on either end of a connection, supporting eight copper pairs between then. The company also offers the HN4000 for the central office, which aggregates the output of 40 HN400s. The HN4000s can be stacked in groups of five. The HN400 is in nine trials, including two incumbent carriers in Europe and one in the United States, while the HN4000 is set to begin trials later this month, CEO Sheehan says.

    — Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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