Carrier Ethernet —A Peek Into the Near Future


2011 marks the 10th anniversary of Carrier Ethernet services launched by the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF). The technology has penetrated deep into global communication businesses, both as a service and as a network infrastructure cornerstone, with the entire business ecosystem investing in this technology. Here are a few statistics that show just how deep the services have been integrated.

•  Businesses are upgrading their networks from lower-speed T1 and Frame Relay circuits, which in turn is driving the demand for Ethernet bandwidth (source: The Vertical Systems Group)
•  The combined, global revenue from Ethernet and IP/MPLS/VPN services will be up to $78B by 2015 (source: Infonetics Research)
•  Revenue from wholesale Ethernet services is growing faster than that of retail, at a 19 percent compounded annual growth rate until 2015 (source: Infonetics Research)
•  Growth in service provider investments in carrier Ethernet equipment continues to outpace that of other telecom equipment, with annual global spending expected to reach $37.5B in 2015 (source: Infonetics Research)

The Ethernet Backstory
While the residential and business services were the segments where Carrier Ethernet was first adopted, wireless backhaul applications have been steadily gaining ground and are all set to replace TDM completely. External Network to Network Interfaces (ENNI) are seen as the Carrier Ethernet equivalent of channelized TDM and are the backbones for wholesale Ethernet services. Carriers are opting to use ENNI to connect to remote locations through wholesale Ethernet links for their last-mile connections.

Carrier Ethernet exchanges, a relatively new market opportunity, are another form of ENNI that serve as an interconnection point where Carrier Ethernet services are exchanged. As cloud computing gains momentum, the last mile becomes increasingly essential, creating a huge growth opportunity for cable MSOs and Carrier Ethernet access platforms. Wholesale carriers see a great demand for Ethernet both from the mobile backhaul and aggregation segments. With Carrier Ethernet evolving to 100GE speeds and beyond, operators are rapidly evolving to end-to-end Ethernet-based links across the access, transport, and datacenter networks.

The Network Equipment Advantage
Carrier Ethernet has a clear dominance over other technologies for the future communication networks, with continuous improvements in reliability and protection mechanisms, end-to-end service OAM capabilities, and capabilities to address the mobile backhaul segment. The top Carrier Ethernet equipment categories being tracked include microwave backhaul, Carrier Ethernet switches, IP core and edge routers, SONET/SDH equipment, WDM equipment, VDSL, fiber and copper Ethernet access devices, EPON, and Ethernet/TDM microwave equipment. For telecom equipment manufacturers (TEMs) the largest investments are in routers, Carrier Ethernet switches, and optical gear—Ethernet microwave being the fastest growing segment due to its use for mobile backhaul. With TEMs opting for Carrier Ethernet equipment to support the convergence of fixed and mobile traffic, it is well poised to replace TDM completely on the backhaul segments.

The Evolution of Silicon
As Carrier Ethernet has evolved, silicon vendors have designed switching devices to meet much more than raw forwarding speeds. Over time, support for multiple types of bridging, network routing, transport protocols like PBB-TE and MPLS-TP, network synchronization as defined in IEEE 1588 and Synchronous Ethernet, and protection schemes has been added.

Silicon vendors are faced with the challenge of meeting very stringent QoS requirements with Hierarchical QoS and unmatched service-level classification needs. The switch processors are expected to provide predictable service characterization that will allow SLAs to be negotiated between carriers or between a carrier and an enterprise customer. To meet these challenges many vendors have come up with Traffic Management blocks as part of their packet processing engines. And with equipment vendors looking to offload the core functionalities of top equipment to switch silicons, silicon vendors are getting their entire Ethernet portfolio geared up for the advanced services and requirements of next generation networks.

Test Equipment
The adoption of Carrier Ethernet by service providers and equipment vendors has created opportunities for test equipment vendors to define new testing solutions that directly address the Carrier Ethernet testing needs.

Test equipment vendors are providing new ports to support the wide range of bandwidths (40G/100G) offered by Carrier Ethernet equipment. The test solutions include certifications to ensure conformance to MEF standards, custom modules to test special features like timing and synchronization, and automated test solutions for functional, protocol conformance, and performance testing.

What’s Next
The Carrier Ethernet industry continues to evolve the timing and synchronization specifications to ensure that mobile operators adopt IP-based converged networks completely. To meet the challenges of revolutionary mobile devices with cloud services and virtualization, 100 Gigabit uplinks are needed from switches and terabit Ethernet datacenter backbones. 100GE is already a reality and research is underway to develop the next generation of Ethernet, beyond 100G. On the flip side, equipment vendors have warned carriers that backhaul will be the biggest bottleneck for cloud computing as insufficient backhaul capacities are likely to hamper the quality of experience for the end consumer, thereby defeating the purpose of cloud computing itself.

However, the telecommunications world is in agreement that Carrier Ethernet is the most promising technology to develop for enabling next generation networks.


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