Huawei Joins PBT Fan Club
PBT (Provider Backbone Transport), the emerging and controversial flavor of Ethernet championed by BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), is fueling intense campaigning among telecom equipment firms and dividing the vendors into "pro" and "anti" camps.
The technology -- also now known as PBB-TE (Provider Backbone Bridge - Traffic Engineering), the rather cumbersome name handed out by those hacks at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) -- has attracted much attention thanks to BT's support and the carrier's award of PBT contracts to Siemens Communications Group and Nortel Networks Ltd. . (See Nortel, Siemens Win PBT Deals at BT, Nortel on PBT: Today BT, Tomorrow the World!, PBT Gathers Support, and PBT Means What?)
It has also attracted attention as its supporters portray it as a more cost-effective, easier-to-manage alternative to MPLS in some Layer 2, point-to-point transport scenarios. The MPLS sector, though, has countered that position with a rival version, called Transport MPLS (T-MPLS), which has the support of Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) and others, such as Corrigent Systems Inc. (See PBT: New Kid on the Metro Block, PBT's Ethernet Appeal, and C5 News Roundup.)
BT talked about its likely use of the technology again this week at the C5 event in Milan. (See BT, Huawei Look Alive at C5.)
Today, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. positioned its flag firmly in the pro-PBT camp, announcing that it has "already committed to support PBB-TE in its offering for BT's 21CN project." (See Huawei Supports PBT.)
That support could help the Chinese vendor win business elsewhere, too. On the sidelines of the C5 event in Milan, BT's CTO Matt Bross (once again bravely sporting a luminescent pink tie), told Light Reading that, while other operators haven't been beating down BT's door to get the skinny on PBT, "it's something other carriers have been asking us about when we meet them. There's definitely interest from other carriers."
Bross added: "We've been waiting for a while for Ethernet to meet carriers' needs, and, although it's early days, this looks like it. It has the OAM [operations, administration, and maintenance] and resiliency that is needed."
Bross's view that other carriers are interested in PBT is shared by Kevin Daines, CTO at World Wide Packets Inc. , an early supporter of PBT. "We have announced PBT support on our platform in response to some specific customer opportunities," he says. (See WWP Supports PBT.)
He says interest is particularly strong in Europe because of BT's support for the technology. A number of carriers "have heard about it and want to know what it can do. They want the PBT story. Others have already evaluated it and now want a lab trial."
There's also interest from North American mobile operators, where PBT could be used for backhauling data traffic, adds Daines. "We're in advanced discussions with a major U.S. wireless carrier, while some other newer entrants are having a lot of issues with the proprietary gear they're currently using for backhaul."
But not everyone's enthusiastic about the technology -- a situation that's to be expected, says BT's Bross. "There will be hype and fear in the market, just as there is when any new technology emerges. Some companies have positions they want to protect," he adds, but without naming names.
But clearly it's the major MPLS vendors that, potentially, have the most to lose if PBT is widely deployed. That would likely explain why one of the industry's major voices, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) -- like Huawei, a preferred vendor in BT's 21CN rollout -- insists the carrier community isn't interested in PBT.
Mike Capuano, senior manager of service provider solutions marketing at Cisco, says PBT is limited in its application and, importantly, is not yet standardized.
"Depending on the scope [of the standard], it could be between 12 and 18 months before there's a standard, and we're monitoring that process," says Capuano. (See Cisco Tracks PBT Standards Process.)
But while monitoring the situation, and claiming to be "technology agnostic," Cisco has built up a case against PBT, highlighting multiple networking scenarios where PBT would not be suitable, even though PBT's supporters have never claimed the technology is anything but a point-to-point solution.
In addition, Cisco says PBT adds to a carrier's total cost of ownership and adds operational complexity, and the vendor dismisses any suggestion that carriers are generally interested. "PBT really only supports point-to-point Ethernet, and carriers are trying to move away from point-to-point technologies. What we are hearing from most of our customers is that they're sticking with their IP/MPLS strategies. A small percentage are taking the chance to trial technologies such as PBT, but most say they want to move to a single converged network," says Capuano.
So what does Cisco make of BT's fervent support? "BT is a tremendously important customer for us. We're talking to all our customers, including BT, about PBT. But it's early days. We will see how PBT works with the carriers that are trialing it," says Capuano, before adding, "IP/MPLS is a mature technology that is delivering."
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading