Carrier Ethernet 2.0 Plays to Cable's Strengths

BTR_Feature_Art_Ethernet_2_26_13_ There are two main drivers for MSOs' initiatives in the commercial services sector: Companies want to more fully market to larger enterprises and to get their share of the cellular backhaul business, which is growing as LTE networks roll out.  

The industry's main platform for succeeding in these market segments - both of which require extraordinarily robust and reliable networks - is Carrier Ethernet. On Feb. 20, the Metro Ethernet Forum announced that Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) was the first carrier to earn Carrier Ethernet 2.0 (CE 2.0) certification.

Though it is the biggest cable operator, Comcast is a relative newcomer to commercial services and is not leading the pack. In a ranking of cable operators by billable port share that was released last week, Vertical Systems Group ranked Comcast fifth after, in descending order, Cox, Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), Charter (NASDAQ:CHRT) and Lightpath (NYSE:CVC),.

Thus, it is interesting that the company won the race to certification. Comcast, of course, is the most influential operator, and what it does says something about the industry’s priorities. In any case, Comcast isn't accustomed to being fifth biggest in anything. "I think that we were first because we wanted to be first," said Karen Schmidt, the executive director of product marketing for Comcast Business. "We are still new to the market and have a great network. We wanted to prove that and tell our story."

The cable industry, of course, is very familiar with Ethernet, and CE 2.0 dovetails nicely with its skillset. There are four pieces to CE 2.0, according to Daniel Bar-Lev, the director of certification programs for the Metro Ethernet Forum. The first three focus on fiber topographies within a network: E-line (point-to-point), E-Lan (multipoint-to-multipoint) and E-Tree (tree and branch). The fourth element is E-Access, which is a point-to-point process for passing traffic to a partnering network. CE 2.0 has three pillars, Bar-Lev said:

  • CE 2.0 allows carriers to distinguish class of service (CoS). For instance, carriers now will  have an industry-recognized way to distinguish between a guaranteed and best-effort level of service for a customer. 

  • CE 2.0 creates an industry-recognized means of exchanging traffic between carriers or other large entities. Thus, if a company has facilities served by two service providers - or if a service provider is exchanging traffic with a big private network - CE 2.0 provides a way to offer services that have end-to-end service level agreements (SLAs) and management control. 

  • CE 2.0 enhances manageability with fault tolerance and other tools.

Of course, each of these processes already exists today. Operators offer different levels of service, complete connection on partners' networks and manage their networks with a great degree of sophistication. When these things are done on an ad hoc basis, however, differences in interpretation of the arcane details can leave compliance a bit fuzzy. CE 2.0 enables the various specs to be met precisely and in a way that is understood by the entire ecosystem. That degree of granularity is an important and necessary step in the maturation of Carrier Ethernet.

CE 2.0 is more a compendium of common MEF protocols such as MEF 9 and MEF 14 than the introduction of new specifications. "The MEF has a lot of discreet specs," said Mannix O’Connor, the director of technical marketing for MRV (OTN:MRVC). "CE 2.0 brings them together in a concerted way. They have not changed anything about the ENNI (for instance). They just said that there is a standard way of using the ENNI that will involve these characteristics and look a certain way. The analogy is to groceries and a recipe. CE 2.0 is the recipe. It is using the ingredients from CE 1.0."

There actually are two certification processes. About 20 vendors already have CE 2.0 certification. The two levels - vendor and carrier - are closely entwined. Essentially, the vendor level is the most granular and deals with the process of getting the bits and the bytes to where they need to be. The service provider certification can be said to be a level up and assures that everything is in order.

The announcement has a big marketing angle. It essentially tells the world that CE is ready for to play in the big - indeed, very big - leagues. "The real value ultimately may be that this makes it transparent to the enterprise," said Erin Dunne, the director of research at the Vertical Systems Group. "The enterprise is the one paying the bill. They are the ones who are going to see the value in this because in theory this framework is going to allow advanced deployment for Ethernet services worldwide. The other key is that it also enables cloud-ready Ethernet implementation. This is really key."

At the end of the day, the most important piece of CE 2.0 may be the E-Access element. The ability to provide end to end service - with full management functionality and SLAs - to other CE 2.0-certified carriers may enable operators to go after the big enterprises that are more likely to have facilities outside a single operator's footprint. "That's the No. 1 point of interest to them," said John Hawkins, Ciena's (NASDAQ:CIEN) senior advisor for Carrier Ethernet. "It's a lot about interoperability, interconnection and the handling of data operators. It's the reason Comcast and others are so gung-ho to get certification.”

Carl Weinschenk is the Senior Editor of Broadband Technology Report . Reach him at

Editor’s Note: Right after posting of this story, Comcast announced that is providing business class trunks and Ethernet services to the City of West Haven, CT. According to the press release, Comcast will work with The Business Network Group to provide Internet access and voice services to three libraries, six firehouses, the high school, beach patrol offices and police department.

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