Getting A Grip On Wide Area Ethernet
by Michael Finneran, dBrn Associates
Published June 2005; Posted November 2005




After years of anticipation, Ethernet is making its move into the wide area market. Metro-area Ethernet services were pioneered by startups like Yipes and Telseon during the late-’90s network boom, and after a slow start, service revenues are now growing at double-digit rates.


LAN switching over point-to-point trunks eliminates the need to limit Ethernet’s transmission range, and carriers are now offering both metro-area and wide-area services; hence we will use the term wide area Ethernet (WAE) rather than the more familiar "metro area Ethernet (MAE)." While startups introduced the concept, the incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs) like SBC and Verizon are now in the best position to capitalize on the market.


At a high level, the use of Ethernet as a wide area transmission technology has tremendous appeal in terms of both economics and simplicity. Ethernet switches are far cheaper than SONET transport and earlier-generation packet forwarding technologies. From a simplicity standpoint, better than 95 percent of data traffic begins and/or ends on an Ethernet interface, so why use a router to generate a frame relay, PPP or ATM interface? The mantra for network simplicity has become: "IP on Ethernet on wavelengths." Those economics are also reflected in the carriers’ opex budgets.


However, wide area Ethernet (WAE) is also throwing more confusion into the already muddled services market. Depending on how it’s configured, WAE can be viewed as a competitor to the entire acronym alphabet from ADSL to WiMAX! The difficulty is that WAE can be used as an access technology, a wide area service or both.


The market for Ethernet services is growing substantially, though from a very small base. Clearly, Ethernet’s gains will come at the expense of other technologies, particularly frame relay and ATM. Ethernet’s role in the overall services mix is still being defined. Internet access and metro area site-to-site connectivity are the stars today, but the interplay with Internet VPN solutions remains the big question.



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About the author:

Michael Finneran is president of dBrn Associates, Inc., an independent consulting firm in Hewlett Neck, NY, specializing in the design and installation of domestic and international networks. He is the instructor for BCR’s data communications courses on “Wireless Networks For Voice And Data” and “Wireless LANs.”


This article is reproduced by special arrangement with our partner, Business Communications Review.