Ethernet: Technology overview for carriers and service providers

Ethernet, especially in the form of carrier Ethernet and carrier Ethernet transport, is gaining momentum in the telecom industry for its ease of use and potential lower cost.

Ethernet, in one form or another, is quickly becoming the transmission medium of choice for communications users around the world. Up until recently, you would most likely find Ethernet in an enterprise LAN, but today Ethernet is increasingly being used to provide services and transport in WANs (wide area networks), service provider access networks, and carrier backbones.

Carrier Ethernet
Carrier Ethernet is a service offered by carriers and service providers over broadband networks. It is gaining popularity and supplanting frame relay in many metro areas because the service operates independently of the physical network it runs across and because it requires only a single service connection to implement. VPLS (Virtual private LAN service) is a type of Ethernet that uses MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) to provide VPNs for customers.

According to the Metro Ethernet Forum, carrier Ethernet is defined by five attributes that distinguish it from LAN-based Ethernet:

  • Standardized services: Customers can receive a wide range of standardized yet improved services, including converged network services, over existing equipment
  • Scalability: Can be implemented in bandwidth from 1Mbps to 10Gbps and beyond, from access to global coverage
  • Reliability: The network can quickly detect and recover from incidents without impacting users
  • Quality of service: Wide choice of SLAs for end-to-end performance of business and residential services
  • Service management: The ability to monitor, diagnose and centrally manage the network with standards-based systems and operations management.

For more details and technical specifications on carrier and metro Ethernet, visit the Metro Ethernet Forum.

Carrier Ethernet transport
Ethernet is also beginning to make inroads as a transport technology in carrier and metro networks. Ethernet transport allows for simplified routing, greater scalability, ease of management, lowered cost and improved security; and vendors are aggressively developing equipment in this area. However, there is much debate over the new options, which include PBT (Provider Backbone Transport) and PBB-TE (Provider Backbone Bridging-Traffic Engineering), or the competing T-MPLS (Transport MPLS).

Gigabit Ethernet
Gigabit Ethernet, a transmission technology based on the Ethernet frame format and protocol used in local area networks (LANs), provides a data rate of 1 billion bits per second (one gigabit). Gigabit Ethernet is defined in the IEEE 802.3 standard and is currently being used as the backbone in many enterprise networks.

Gigabit Ethernet is carried primarily on optical fiber (with very short distances possible on copper media). Existing Ethernet LANs with 10 and 100 Mbps cards can feed into a Gigabit Ethernet backbone. An alternative technology that competes with Gigabit Ethernet is ATM. A newer standard, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, is also becoming available.

10 Gigabit Ethernet
10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GBASE-T), being standardized in IEEE 802.3a, is a telecommunication technology that offers data speeds up to 10 billion bits per second. Built on the Ethernet technology used in most of today's local area networks (LANs), 10 Gigabit Ethernet is described as a "disruptive" technology that offers a more efficient and less expensive approach to moving data on backbone connections between networks while also providing a consistent technology end-to-end. Using optical fiber, 10 Gigabit Ethernet can replace existing networks that use ATM switches and SONET multiplexers on an OC-48 SONET ring with a simpler network of 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches and at the same time improve the data rate from 2.5 Gbps to 10 Gbps.

10 Gigabit Ethernet is expected to be used to interconnect local area networks (LANs), wide area networks (WANs), and metropolitan area networks (MANs). 10 Gigabit Ethernet uses the familiar IEEE 802.3 Ethernet media access control (MAC) protocol and its frame format and size. Like Fast Ethernet and Gigabit Ethernet, 10 Gigabit Ethernet uses full-duplex transmission, which makes possible a considerable distance range. On multimode fiber, 10 Gigabit Ethernet will support distances up to 300 meters; on single mode fiber, it will support distances up to 40 kilometers. Smaller Gigabit Ethernet networks can feed into a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network.

Parts of this information courtesy of

This was last published in June 2007

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