VPLS Emerges as a Triple-Play Tool
Since VPLS allows operators to create multipoint Ethernet networks, it's suited to providing multicast IPTV -- multicasting uses point-to-multipoint links to send copies of a single video stream to several set-top boxes at once.
With the takeup of IPTV and the move towards network convergence, traditional Ethernet equipment suppliers find they are becoming triple-play vendors.
One example that stands out is Riverstone, which has recently announced deals with national operator Telekom Srbija a.d. (Telecom Serbia), Hubei CATV in China, and German carrier EWE Tel (see Riverstone Wins at Telecom Serbia, Riverstone Wires Beijing CATV, and Riverstone Deploys in Germany).
Riverstone has also partnered with Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), which provides its Stinger DSL access concentrators, and together they have announced deployments at JSC Kazakhtelekom and Spanish incumbent Telefónica SA (see Kazakhtelecom Picks Lucent, Riverstone, Telefónica Uses Lucent/Riverstone Combo, and Lucent, Riverstone Sign Alliance).
Telekom Srbija is building a new metro area network using the RS8000 and RS8600 Ethernet routers that will provide triple-play services to both residential and business customers.
Inbar Lasser-Raab, Riverstone’s VP of marketing, says there’s no need to differentiate anymore between the mix of data, voice, and video for consumers and data, voice, and video for businesses. “Everything today is triple play.”
The Serbian carrier has the option to upgrade to Riverstone’s VPLS router, the 15008, which the vendor recently beefed up (see Riverstone Enhances Ethernet Router). Vendors like Riverstone and Alcatel (NYSE: ALA; Paris: CGEP:PA) say they've been seeing more and more demand for VPLS in triple-play networks in the past year, as operators look to Ethernet as a cost-effective way of offering new services.
"In addition to native LAN VPNs, we're definitely seeing service providers deploy VPLS as a service delivery infrastructure," says Mehdi Sif, director of triple-play solutions marketing at Alcatel, which offers VPLS functionality in its 7450 Ethernet service switch and 7750 service router. Aside from its well known deployment at SBC Communications Inc. (NYSE: SBC), Alcatel also has deployments with a North American and an EMEA customer.
Running Ethernet VLANs over MPLS offers better scaleability, quality of service, and sub-50 millisecond protection needed to make Ethernet a more viable option for triple-play, providing carriers with more opportunities to generate some extra cash from their Ethernet networks (see VPLS & the Third Mile).
Telefónica has gone the VPLS route for its eBA business service and Imagenio residential service, although so far Imagenio is actually double-play -- the operator has been waiting for regulatory approval to offer VOIP.
Riverstone is keen to point out that in contrast with troubles at SBC and Swisscom AG (NYSE: SCM), which are using a combination of Alcatel and Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) for IPTV trials, Telefónica announced last month it has 40,000 subscribers for its nationwide service and expects to reach 200,000 by the end of the year -- the implication being it's not the technology itself that's causing problems (see Swisscom IPTV Stall Sends Shivers).
With multicasting, as customers hit the channel buttons on their remotes, requests for the channel are aggregated through a DSLAM, which communicates with the main video server. Proponents say that makes the process more bandwidth efficient and scaleable than unicasting, which bogs down the network with individual requests from each set-top box to the server and back again, and is used alongside multicast to deliver video-on-demand content rather than TV channels.
So as an alternative to building a network piecemeal using point-to-point connections transporting individual streams, operators can use VPLS to create a multipoint network with multicasting to replicate content streams as and when they're needed.
There are still scaleability issues with that setup for large deployments though, as it can only support so many VLAN IDs. A newer version, hierarchical VPLS (HVPLS), seeks to address the problem by using a hub-and-spoke approach (see Juniper: The VPLS Odd-Ball?). "HVPLS definitely optimizes delivery [for multicasting]," says Alcatel's Sif.
All of this points to a new challenge providers are facing as demand for these services has grown. “Whatever type of entertainment it is, suddenly what happens is every single residential triple-play customer is becoming a network monitor,” says Gary Holland, Riverstone’s director of marketing for EMEA. As Internet access speeds have been boosted, people have become more intolerant of service delay and they certainly aren’t used to it on their TV screens. “Service providers have got to realize that if they are going to offer triple-play… any shortcomings become patently obvious,” Holland says.
That Telefónica signed up with the Spanish football (soccer) league to provide live coverage of matches might have had something to do with its popularity. It just goes to show the importance of offering the right content, Holland says.
Holland also points out residential consumers are now joining enterprises in driving the need for networks with high reliability, quality of service, and greater bandwidth.
That change has also been reflected in they way service providers are planning their networks. Last year the emphasis was on multiservice networks; now the focus has switched to convergence. Telefónica is operating its residential and business services on separate Ethernet VPLS networks, but Luis Fernandez Vega, its manager of technology planning and transmission, said at Supercomm that the two networks will be merged by the end of the year.
— Nicole Willing, Reporter, Light Reading