Ethernet Services Update: Ethernet Service Types

(JANUARY 24, 2006) - Running over copper, wireless or fiber optic networks, and utilizing an array of backbone technologies including Ethernet-over-Sonet, these solutions can be grouped into three general categories: converged access (a wide-area Ethernet connection over which several different services are provided), point-to-point services between two sites, and multipoint networks providing switched connections between multiple customer sites.

WilTel Communications Group Inc. , for example, after seeing its initial POP-to-POP Ethernet service (introduced in early 2003) stall because of prohibitively high costs in the local metro loop, this year introduced its managed EWAN service that provides multipoint, end-to-end service over an MPLS backbone with native Ethernet handoffs directly at the customer premises. The customer, says Paul Savill, WilTel’s VP for data services, gets a scaleable solution that starts with WAN connectivity of 1 Mbit/s up to hundreds of Mbit/s, and a Fast-E interface up to Gig-E. Totally transparent to the user, the network offers real-time online performance monitoring.

“We were looking last year at ways to overcome the problem with metro access,” explains Savill. “We knew there was a big need for E-WAN, if we could just reach the customer with an affordable solution.”

Pittsburgh-based Expedient went through no fewer than three connectivity options for its Gigabit Internet Access metro Ethernet service - including buying part of the optical-fiber assets of bankrupt Yipes Communications - before moving toward a converged-access service using Ethernet over copper, which can provide bandwidth up to the 20-Mbit/s range for much lower installation costs than establishing rooftop wireless connections or laying optical fiber. For locations beyond the metro area, Expedient’s network of dark fiber offers true Ethernet intercity connections in its core markets in the Northeast and South Florida.

“We found that if you’re going to invest X amount of dollars,” remarks Expedient VP of business development Mark McGinness, “you get a much higher subset of customers by getting into the RBOC [serving] wire centers, using copper T1 or T3 lines, than you do activating individual buildings.”

Similarly, optical networking provider Looking Glass Networks Inc. ‘s EtherGlass Ethernet service, introduced in 2002, offers both switched and non-switched architectures: an Ethernet-over-Sonet implementation with bandwidths up to 1 Gbit/s, and a 10-Gbit/s service over WDM. Both are fully transparent to any protocol or VLAN tags, and include all three service types: converged access, point-to-point, and multipoint.

While Ethernet services currently account for only 4 percent of Looking Glass’s total network bandwidth, says Looking Glass senior director for network engineering and technology Steve Plote, it’s the company’s fastest growing business segment. So far, though, the service has caught on mostly in the wholesale market: “Most of our enterprise customers are still buying traditional T1s or DSEs.”

Hoping to leverage their existing national and regional networks with high-margin products as revenues from voice traffic dwindle, both the incumbent phone companies and the CLECs have begun developing Ethernet services that transport data and connect with the end user, using a variety of technologies.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T - message board), for example, with one of the broadest Ethernet services portfolios in the industry, according to Heavy Reading, has adopted a multi-pronged “build, buy, and break-through” approach to providing Ethernet services. AT&T is leveraging its existing fiber network, reaching out to other incumbent carriers to lease their to-the-curb networks and deploying new technology such as WiMax wireless Ethernet networks. With a total of 10 versions, including its ACCU-Ring Service - Ethernet Svc Channel and its Ultravailable Managed OptEring Service and Ultravailable Network Service - Ethernet Svc Channel, AT&T also offers all three types of Ethernet service.

“We’re the No. 1 CLEC,” points out Richard Klapman, AT&T’s group manager for converged packet access services, “but we only reach something like 10 percent of the important buildings in the U.S. If another carrier has fiber to the customer’s site, it’s a win-win proposition - we get to bring Ethernet services to the building, and they can leverage the fiber in the ground that was laid during the bubble.”

BellSouth Corp. (NYSE: BLS - message board), meanwhile, will be adding a Virtual Ethernet Service to its BellSouth Metro Ethernet Service in the first half of 2006, running over an MPLS backbone. Offering four classes of service depending on how many virtual LANs the customer requires, BellSouth’s virtual Ethernet will provide customers with almost unlimited choice in terms of bandwidth and connectivity, plus ironclad service guarantees. The company is also in technical trials on a long-haul Ethernet-over-Sonet service with a partner to be named later.

A multipoint network service, the VES “is essentially real Ethernet with class-of-service on steroids,” says BellSouth’s senior product manager for metro Ethernet services, Fred Borchuck. “It offers a tremendous range of choices, with very powerful Ethernet access to customers who want a VPN.”

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ - message board) has added to its Switched Ethernet Service - offering three classes of service, for standard, priority, and real-time data - a point-to-point Ethernet private line service that will support so-called “hard” service-level agreements for guaranteed bandwidth, latency, and jitter requirements.

“We’ve gone from a defensive play at Verizon,” says Michael Tighe, director of advanced data products and services, “where Ethernet was very much a last resort if our frame relay and ATM services weren’t cutting it, to an offensive play.”

XO Communications Inc. (OTC: XOXO - message board), which recently announced that it will become a private company wholly owned by Carl Icahn, is in trials on an Ethernet-over-copper solution for its Ethernet Private Line and Dedicated Internet Access services. Offering 10-Mbit/s, 100-Mbit/s, and 1-Gbit/s connectivity, XO’s Ethernet-over-copper services will allow the company to greatly increase its network footprint, according to Garrett Hess, XO’s senior product manager for data services.

“There’s a handful of manufacturers who offer boxes that take existing copper pairs and turn each pair into 2.3 Megs of bandwidth, as long as the customer is within 9,000 feet of the LEC wire center,” Hess explains. “We’ve still been hamstrung by reach, and using copper plus other methods will allow us to remove those obstacles.”