To PBB or Not to PBB?

Looking at the emerging packet-optical transport market over the past quarter, the overriding theme, frankly, is confusion. Much of the recent confusion has to do with connection-oriented Ethernet (COE), which is one of the critical enabling technologies for packet-optical transport systems (P-OTS).

To review, P-OTS products are a new class of network element that, according to the Heavy Reading definition, converge WDM transport, wavelength switching, Sonet/SDH, and connection-oriented Ethernet in a single device.

Recently, we've seen momentum building in the P-OTS category toward Provider Backbone Transport (PBT) – a.k.a. Provider Backbone Bridge – Traffic Engineering (PBB-TE) – technology. In our latest tally, compiled in the latest Heavy Reading Packet-Enabled Optical Networking Quarterly Market Tracker, we count Ciena Corp. (NYSE: CIEN), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY), Nortel Networks Ltd. , and Xtera Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: XCOM) (via Meriton Networks Inc. ) all falling into the PBB-TE camp.

And yet, while PBB-TE momentum in P-OTS grows, we've seen a backlash in the industry against PBB-TE technology. Most notably, PBB-TE's strongest Tier 1 supporter historically, BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), recently stated that it has chosen MPLS over PBB-TE for its data services strategy. (See PBT Sidelined at BT.) Shortly thereafter, Light Reading reported that Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) has chosen MPLS over PBB-TE for its business services. (See Verizon Also Shunning PBT.) This news came out just as Fujitsu was officially announcing its big win at Verizon for its Flashwave 9500 P-OTS – a product that supports PBB-TE! (See Fujitsu Confirms Verizon Packet Optical Win.)

It's certainly confusing. What gives? We think there are distinctions emerging in the use of COE technology depending on the application for the technology – specifically, between Ethernet services and Ethernet transport. Ethernet services are things such as E-Line and E-LAN services for enterprise customers; Ethernet transport is the use of Ethernet technology within the carrier's own network, primarily as a replacement for legacy Sonet/SDH TDM transport, which still dominates operator networks today.

As the Verizon case seems to show, an operator may prefer one COE technology for its Ethernet services products/strategy and a different one for its Ethernet transport products/strategy. The biggest reason for this difference is the distinction between point-to-point and multipoint. PBB-TE was built as a point-to-point technology, whereas MPLS was built for multipoint. Ethernet services have multipoint requirements, but these requirements may not exist in Ethernet transport applications.

This is not to say that PBB-TE won't win over MPLS in Ethernet services networks, nor that MPLS won't win over PBB-TE in Ethernet transport applications. The point is that these applications are different enough that a single operator may end up with multiple types of COE in their networks. This doesn't make life simple for COE suppliers, but it may be a fact they have to live with.

— Sterling Perrin, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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t.bogataj 12/5/2012 | 3:36:31 PM
re: To PBB or Not to PBB? The title of the article is misleading and inappropriate! It is about PBT/PBB-TE, *not* about PBB.

You should know the difference, Sterling.

Sterling Perrin 12/5/2012 | 3:36:22 PM
re: To PBB or Not to PBB? Okay, to be clear - I wrote the column, but did not come up with the title. By some journalistic convention determined centuries ago, I'm sure, editors write titles.

That said, the acronyms around this technology are quite confusing. To be fair, the MPLS side has created their own confusion with MPLS, T-MPLS, and MPLS-TP.

Carriercop 12/5/2012 | 3:36:22 PM
re: To PBB or Not to PBB? This is exactly the all story... Even the analysts the cover the PBB/PBT/PBB-TE tend to be confused with all the funky names Nortel/IEEE defined.

P.S, one big mistake leads to another...
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