EENY: Is Everyone's Ethernet the Same?
In panel discussions and interviews here this week, service providers admit there are fewer technological innovations to set their services apart, but claim some older virtues, including customer service and support, can still make a difference.
”The way we approach customers, the way we treat customers, trying to be more of a partner in giving solutions they need and in some cases tailoring what we offer to meet their specific needs – those are the things that differentiate us today,” said Jay Clark, carrier product manager for Cox Communications Inc. 's business services unit. “The type of redundancy and the type of interfaces we offer can also sometimes differentiate us from an incumbent telco.”
Coverage is still an issue, said Randy Nicklas, CTO of XO Communications Inc. . “If you can’t get Ethernet pervasively then why would you switch to Ethernet?” Nicklas said. Multi-site customers will choose a service provider based on the ability to reach all of its locations with a service that is seamless, he said.
That’s a major reason XO is using Ethernet-over-copper technology to extend the reach of its services beyond the 18 percent of business buildings nationally that are fiber-fed, Nicklas said. And that's why the company continues to push regulators to make sure incumbent LECs provide access to their last-mile copper links.
”We think those copper networks are a national treasure and should continue to be maintained and made available to companies like XO,” he added.
Consistent look and feel of service, regardless of access method, is something Verizon Enterprise Solutions is stressing, according to Michael Volgende, marketing director for Ethernet services. (See Verizon Goes Global With VPLS.)
”This is about how you can give a customer a consistent experience on a global basis,” Volgende said. That’s as much a factor of Verizon’s global network platform and operating systems as its Ethernet offerings, he noted.
In the earlier days of Ethernet, service providers could offer differing flavors of service, but most are now adhering to the MEF service definitions.
“From a technical perspective, there are not going to be a lot of differences among services,” Nicklas said. “But some of the companies that got into Ethernet early really used the service more as a bit pipe, with transport devices that didn’t know what they were carrying. Things have changed radically from that point -- we can now offer transparency end-to-end.”
To boost its transparency, tw telecom inc. (Nasdaq: TWTC) is adding Deep Packet Inspection (DPI) to its Ethernet offerings, and giving customers a dashboard that will allow them to see which applications are consuming their bandwidth and how it might be possible to better manage network resources. (See TW Telecom Connects With DPI .)
More factors: Choice and control
Customer choice and customer control are other points of differentiation. A number of service providers at Ethernet Expo were touting their VPLS offerings, saying customers like a Layer 2 option that enables them to retain control of their Ethernet routing tables.
”Customers want operational control, and they feel they have more control than with a Layer 3 service,” said Margaret Chiosi, executive director, optics and Ethernet service development at AT&T Labs . “Also, customers want to use an Ethernet switch instead of a router.”
This year has seen multiple carriers line up global VPLS offerings, but Global Crossing (Nasdaq: GLBC) is differentiating its global footprint with significant expansion into Latin America. (See Global Crossing Takes Ethernet Global, Reliance Extends VPLS Service, and AT&T Unveils Global VPLS.)
”This is one of our strongest growth markets,” said Jim Poore, vice president of Global Transport Product Management for Global Crossing. “This is an area where you will see other announcements from us.”
In some cases, being able to offer standards is in itself a point of differentiation.
”For our partners, the ability to deliver guaranteed deterministic QoS with tough SLAs [service level agreements] and predictable performance is a major key,” said Asim Zakria, director of technology management and architecture at Covad Communications Inc. , which sells Ethernet wholesale services.
— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading