Ethernet equipment

BT Unveils Ethernet Expansion Plans

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) is ready to embark on its next wave of Ethernet infrastructure rollout by enhancing its high-speed access services strategy with EFM (Ethernet in the First Mile) technology, BT Wholesale director of product management Steve Best told delegates at last week's Ethernet Expo: Europe 2009 in London.

Best also explained how BT will deliver the all-important clock synchronization capabilities that are vital to its Ethernet-based managed mobile backhaul service.

The BT man, who also took time to step in front of LR TV's cameras the event (see below), noted that demand for Ethernet services from BT's wholesale customers has been driven largely by the impact of over-the-top video services and the growth in mobile data during the past 12 to 24 months.

He noted that iPlayer, the successful catch-up TV service from the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) that is streamed to British broadband users' PCs, is now eating up 7 petabytes of capacity on the U.K.'s networks each month, and that the introduction of the iPhone and 3G dongles to the U.K. market had driven up mobile data traffic volumes significantly. (See BT Unveils Its CDN Plans.)

"This is a tremendous challenge, but it's also driving the Ethernet services market" in the U.K., said Best, who noted that, while BT was "late to the party" in terms of state-of-the-art carrier Ethernet offerings, it has now replaced its 104 legacy nodes with 614 next-generation points of presence that cover 90 percent of British business users and allow BT to reach nearly all of the U.K.'s mobile base stations. (See BT Business Adds Ethernet, BT Launches Etherflow, and AlcaLu Expands at BT.)

He added, though, that while Ethernet services deliver many benefits to corporate users in terms of flexibility, scalability, and total costs, the substitution by corporate users of legacy data connections with Ethernet alternatives "is not happening as fast as we thought. End users have an installed investment in TDM, and are fearful of service interruption and change," he noted.

While that uptake might flow through at a slower pace than previously expected, there's demand elsewhere for Ethernet services, particularly to support high-speed fixed access for business users and for mobile backhaul.

Bridging the broadband gap
BT already has extensive DSL-based broadband capabilities and is in the early stages of executing its fiber access strategy. Now it plans to fill the gap between those two flavors of high-speed fixed access with EFM technology that will enable BT to use bonded copper pairs and offer synchronous broadband access up to 45 Mbit/s over 8 bonded pairs, depending on the distance from the local exchange.

Best said BT is "very much focused on this as an opportunity -– we see it as the bridge between DSL and fiber." The BT man says it has technology in trials, can achieve 10 Mbit/s each way at up to four kilometers from the local exchange using eight pairs of bonded copper, and is planning a commercial launch within "the next few months."

BT isn't disclosing any technology partners at this stage, but its options are quite limited: The EFM-over-bonded copper sector's two market leaders, Actelis Networks Inc. and Hatteras Networks Inc. , are already active in Europe, while Hatteras works closely with key BT partner Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU), which is rebadging Hatteras technology for its EFM offer. (See AlcaLu Extends EFM Line.)

In synch with mobile backhaul
Some mobile operators are seeing their mobile data traffic volumes double every four-to-six months, said Best, and they need an alternative to their existing TDM and microwave backhaul connections. BT identified the potential for managed Ethernet-based backhaul services some time ago, and has already signed up four of the U.K.'s five mobile operators to its new offering, landing contracts worth £750 million ($1.16 billion) over the next five years. (See MBNL Backhauls With BT, BT Wins New O2 Deal, and Motorola Seals Up Terayon .)

So what is BT doing to provide the "clock synchronization" capabilities that are essential for call handover between mobile operators' base stations? A number of different options -- maybe too many options -- are available, but BT has pinned down a "phased approach" strategy in tandem with its backhaul technology partner, Tellabs Inc. (Nasdaq: TLAB; Frankfurt: BTLA). (See Tellabs Joins 21CN Ranks, Anything But Convergence in Backhaul Synchronization, and BT Uses Tellabs for Ethernet Backhaul.)

Best says that, at first, BT will maintain a single E1 line to each base station, and use that TDM-based connection for synchronization purposes. Then, by the end of this year, BT will introduce capabilities based on the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) 1588v2 standard. (See ADVA, Ethos Enter Ethernet Backhaul for more backhaul background.)

Then, some time in 2010, but only after thorough lab testing, BT plans to deploy Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE) capabilities, a process that will involve adding SyncE chips to all its backhaul elements.

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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