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Ethernet services

MEF Tackles Ethernet Interconnect

Carriers are pressing hard for standards that will help take the pain out of Ethernet service interconnection, currently a painstaking and labor intensive process, according to the MEF .

The focus is on developing technical specs for E-NNI (Ethernet Network-to-Network Interface) as carriers find themselves having to figure out on a case-by-case basis how to enable end-to-end Ethernet services across each others' networks.

"This is the biggest challenge facing the carrier members of the MEF at the moment, and I've never seen a specification driven so hard by the carrier members," says MEF president Nan Chen. "We're working on the E-NNI spec now and hope to have something finalized by the end of the year."

That spec, being developed with AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) as the editor, will determine how carriers can create Ethernet virtual circuits (EVCs) across multiple carrier networks using standards-based interfaces. The aim, says Chen, is to let carriers interconnect up to 4,000 service connections with up to eight classes of service; maintain visibility of services end-to-end; and maintain service priorities within an EVC when, for instance, voice, video, and data traffic is being managed across the Ethernet tunnel.

The current process of working out how to create EVCs on an ad hoc, case-by-case basis is "very manually intensive," says Chen, who adds that the MEF is working on ways to standardize some of the business processes involved in Ethernet interconnect, such as the way in which intercarrier service ordering can be automated using a menu of common service denominators.

It's those business principles and policies that will be the biggest hurdle to true Ethernet interconnect, according to the CTO of European operator Colt Technology Services Group Ltd , Alireza Mahmoodshahi, who used his keynote address at Light Reading's recent Ethernet Expo in London to raise the issue. (See COLT CTO: Let's Connect Now!)

COLT wasn't the only carrier concerned about Ethernet service interconnect: Representatives of Belgacom SA (Euronext: BELG), Virgin Media Business Ltd. , Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL) (NYSE: VSL), and Yipes Enterprise Services Inc. all testified to its importance during a series of panel discussions and Q&A sessions.

But even with technical standards, and some business process standards, in place, carriers would still be dealing with each interconnect arrangement on a case-by-case basis. So is there a plan to create Ethernet service peering points where carriers can interconnect en masse in the same way as they swap Internet traffic?

That's something the MEF is talking to its bigger operator members about, but not something the Forum would get involved with directly, Chen says: "We're looking at this issue, at how the large carriers might get involved in the same way as they have organized the large Internet peering points. We're holding initial discussions about how that might happen, and it's certainly something the operators see happening in the future."

But that's a model that could have its downsides, too. While carriers at the Ethernet Expo agreed that standards and peering exchanges would make life easier, John Hoffman, International Ethernet Product Manager at VSNL International, told the London event that such exchanges would "also render all the services the same." That could create disadvantages for those service providers that try to stand out by doing things differently.

Separately, the MEF today announced three new specifications, targeting operations, administration, and maintenance (OA&M); conformance testing for circuit emulation over Ethernet; and testing the user network interface (UNI) Type 1. (See MEF Approves New Specs.)

— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading

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