Ethernet technology has continually reinvented itself over the years to satisfy user requirements. It now supports a range of speeds from 10 Mbps to 10 Gbps, and due to the open, competitive nature of the Ethernet market, prices are very competitive. Ethernet has won the local area network (LAN) battle and is today a ubiquitous technology that provides connectivity for over 97 per cent of networking devices worldwide.

Ethernet can be used for a number of applications by different types of users, including large enterprises, small and medium-size businesses, central and local governments, content repositories (e.g. MPEG video, application services, e-mail, web servers, file servers and databases) as well as residential users. All these users utilise telecommunications services to provide inter-site communications. Enterprises also use communication networks to provide support for their customers.

Metro Ethernet provides connections with increased bandwidth and the ease and scalability of Ethernet LAN technology to businesses of all sizes. It offers fixed rate connections that are scalable while providing a highly reliable solution for mission critical applications. Metro Ethernet can provide substantial benefits to service providers. It provides significant cost advantages, the services are highly scalable and it also offers fast provisioning time: ethernet services can be configured and reconfigured rapidly.

Despite this potential, Metro Ethernet is experiencing a number of challenges that are slowing its deployment and uptake – particularly security concerns from customers who want their traffic to remain secure and need to be re-assured that it will not overlap with other organisations.

Operators now use a number of techniques to segregate the traffic to ensure that customer traffic remains protected. These techniques include Private VLAN (Upstream Forwarding Only), VLAN Stacking as well as pre-established virtual circuits and tunnels (Label Switched Paths) when Ethernet is carried over an MPLS core.

The other challenges vary depending on the type of operator. For a greenfield operator the challenges include access to business/residential premises, cost of building the network, fibre reach and availability in access. Operators have also had difficulty finding the right pricing model, as offering cheap rates lead to price erosion and service commoditisation.

For incumbent operators the challenges are risk of cannibalisation of the existing legacy services which bring the majority of today's revenue, balancing investment in future infrastructure (which will enable future revenue growth) and investment in existing network implementations, which ensures continuance of existing, high-margin, revenue streams.

The good news is that all of the above mentioned challenges have been identified and heavily addressed and that the worst part of the telecom industry downturn is behind us.

Operators are now very optimistic about the future. I believe Metro Ethernet is the technology of the future opening up opportunities for both operators and end-users. With customers' security concerns already overcome, Metro Ethernet operational efficiencies, price per megabit, fast provisioning, bandwidth granularity and scalability are too good to be overlooked.

Rami Houbby is international business development director for Allied Telesyn.

http://www.alliedtelesyn.com/