Carrier Ethernet Metrics Gain in Importance

BTR_Feature_Art_Ethernet-10-11_13 The cable industry's efforts to provide Carrier Ethernet services to medium-size businesses and satisfy cellular operators' backhaul needs are significant opportunities. However, to tap into these lucrative markets, network testing and monitoring must be in place that is far more sophisticated than what consumers and small businesses have been offered in the past.

Cable operators battle the telephone companies for this business. The two are coming at the market - and the test and measurement approaches that are a key element of keeping the networks running smoothly - from very different perspectives.

The bottom line is that operators have a good deal of ground to cover due to their legacy as providers of much simpler consumer services. "There are many issues to them that are totally new," said Rammy Bahalul, the vice president of marketing for Omnitron Systems. "This is a big challenge, and there is a gap I am seeing when I talk to cable operators."

The cable and telco approaches to testing and monitoring of their Carrier Ethernet-based backhaul and medium-sized business infrastructure each have their pluses and minuses, according to observers.

The telcos have the more relevant background. The industry has provided similar services for decades and thus is skilled at measuring and monitoring best practices. "The whole legacy of the PSTN that [telcos] have worked with for the last 100 years gives them a head start on knowing how to get mobile backhaul right," Bahalul said. "It requires a lot of timing, determining how you get the timing between different cell towers locked so that mobile backhaul is smooth and there are no echoes or other disruptions. The MSOs are coming from behind and have to close that gap."

The problem for the telcos is that the types of networks they have been doing such a great job of monitoring are fading away. Carrier Ethernet is replacing SONET and ATM as the "go-to" protocol. Thus, though the telcos are versed in best practices, precisely what those best practices are is changing.

The cable players' situation is diametrically opposite. Their effort, and much of the hardware and software that supports it, is new. It is coming of age at the right time, but the level of precision, measurement and reporting - in increasingly demanding service level agreements (SLAs) - presents technical and management challenges with which some operators are unfamiliar.

Until this point, said Chris Cullan, a product manager from InfoVista, the cable industry has monitored and measured Carrier Ethernet more or less on the fly. "One of the analogies I draw is [cable operators] run their networks more like the old television show 'MacGyver.' He used bubblegum and paper clips to make amazing things. The cable operators sort of do the same thing, and as a result have an ad hoc sort of 'just in time' framework."

The industry is not without legacy issues of its own in the sense that it is working to enfranchise DOCSIS as a way of creating a uniform set of protocols for all the networks it has under sway. DOCSIS Provisioning over Ethernet (DPoE) in a sense is a way of making the industry's legacy protocols into a positive.

InfoVista released a study this month that pointed to the demands of the increasingly sophisticated end users. The study, done in conjunction with analysts Frost & Sullivan, found that 88% of responding service providers have a performance management solution in place for their Carrier Ethernet platforms. However, 70% of those said their end user customers "would value increasingly sophisticated reporting." In other words, testing, measurement and reporting is a very important point of differentiation between carriers - and will continue to grow in importance.

Though the research doesn't break out cable operators specifically, they should read the results carefully. The bottom line is that end users are not satisfied with rudimentary metrics. The cable industry has further to go to reach the higher level of measurement. The difference between the rudimentary and higher levels could be a particularly important sales point in the very demanding world of cellular backhaul.

The stark dichotomy between the telcos as network monitoring and measurement experts stuck with old technologies and cable as an industry with newer technologies but far less know-how is a generalization that in many cases in accurate. Indeed, cable operators now are major players in Carrier Ethernet, and the leading MSOs - especially Cox - are among the most sophisticated players. But the legacy strengths and weaknesses remain, especially for the smaller and less sophisticated operators.

In the final analysis, however, the revenue potential will lead the industry to develop the tools that their customers - and potential customers - want. The industry will do what it always does: Adjust and adapt based on what will produce revenue, with monitoring, testing and measurement of Carrier Ethernet infrastructure as a key enabler. "The cable guys are nimble thinkers," said InfoVista's Cullen.

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

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