CARRIER ETHERNET BUSINESS BRIEFING 2014: The next level

24 February 2014 | Guy Matthews


Have early movers to obtain Carrier Ethernet 2.0 compliance gained an important edge in the market? Early adopters and those less convinced explain their positions.

Carrier Ethernet 2.0 (CE 2.0) was announced to the world in 2012. It added new facets to the basic standard, such as multiple classes of service and multi-network manageability, simplifying the interconnection of services from different providers.

Those who collaborated to forge the specifications of CE 2.0 will have been mindful of the communications market’s increasing diversity and complexity, and the need to safeguard Ethernet’s relevance in this ecosystem.

The first names to announce full compliance with CE 2.0 were naturally enough from the vendor community. These were followed by an early wave of network operators, who in a matter of months had put themselves through the challenging hoops required to achieve MEF approval and deliver CE 2.0 services to their customers.

Quick starters
So has early certification proved in any way a game-changer for those in the first wave of adoption?

One organisation which should have perspective on the matter is Comcast Business Services, the B2B arm of the US cableco. In February 2013 it achieved the distinction of becoming the first communications service provider to achieve CE 2.0 certification, for its E-Line and E-LAN services. Mike Tighe, executive director of data services at Comcast Business Services, acknowledges that the certification process was not an easy one to go through, but believes the effort involved is already showing dividends in improved customer relations, as well in the streamlining of a number of internal processes.

“From the customer perspective, it is always important for them to know that you are a credible provider, and having a CE 2.0 certification proves that, as a wholesaler, you have the ability to design networks,” he explains.

“It removes the need for customers to check, double check and triple check, since we’re already tested to a high standard.”

He believes few of his customers will be mourning the way interconnection has historically been managed.

“You would start with a list of specifications that might take four weeks to go over,” he says. “Then, you needed agreement on how to implement access, all without the help of standard service definitions. If there was enough ambiguity, you could go back and forth for ages to agree a final service. Then you would need a lengthy testing process.”

The chief early contribution of CE 2.0 has been to spell an end to that world.

“Under 2.0, everything can be agreed in a much shorter time frame. I can approach four different off-net providers whose networks we want to use, and just swap specs. We can buy and also sell more easily when everything comes up in less than 24 hours,” Tighe claims.

He believes that while not all operators have chosen the rocky path of early compliance, many are already adopting at least some CE 2.0 specs.

“In an ideal world, everybody would be CE 2.0 certified already, or well on the way. But just having some specs that we can all refer to is a monumental achievement and a huge step forward,” Tighe says.

The first European CE 2.0 service provider certification was awarded in April of 2013 to Telecom Italia. Mario Bianchetti was the senior programme manager overseeing the certification process. He says the intent in making such a prompt move – well ahead of other major European telco names – was to be in pole position to deliver more standardised services to both enterprise and wholesale customers.

“It’s only three years since we achieved CE 1.0 certification,” he reflects. “We’re now hoping that with 2.0 we will win more business and, of course, make more money, although that is up to my colleagues on the marketing and sales side. It was challenging to get certified, yes, but I think it proves the quality of our services.”

Early bird
Bianchetti says that since April, Telecom Italia is in new negotiations with service providers and enterprises due to certification.It is not just within Italy’s Carrier Ethernet market – fourth-largest in Europe by revenue – that 2.0 certification is opening doors.

“Our international wholesale customers are increasingly specifying CE 2.0 as part of their tender process,” he adds.

Back on the other side of the Atlantic, another early 2.0 qualifier is Montreal-based Fibrenoire. The company specialises in fibre provision in the Quebec and Ontario areas for a mix of wholesale and enterprise customers.

“We provide a lot of Ethernet circuits to other service providers,” says Jean-François Lévesque, VP technologies and CTO with Fibrenoire. “Our wholesale customers can now see exactly what it is we are delivering.”

When it comes to the enterprise side of Fibrenoire’s business, Lévesque says that as yet there is little or no advantage to being 2.0 compliant.

“I don’t think many enterprises know what it even is yet,” he reflects. “But we’ve got lots of smaller service providers in the Montreal and Quebec area coming to talk to us, and also some major international carrier names, too. The service we are delivering to them is so much better now. It is improving our business relationship with existing customers, as well as opening new doors. Pretty well anything they ask us for, when it comes to turning up new circuits, we can say ‘Yes’ to.”

He believes that the rush to become the first company in Canada to achieve the 2.0 certification has put it ahead of rivals – for the moment at least.

“The timing issue was important,” Lévesque says. “It gives us an advantage over competitors for a while.” He acknowledges that before long, others will catch up, dissipating this early adopter glow.

“Fairly soon it will be a matter of ‘If you are not CE 2.0 certified, then we can’t do business with you’,” suggests Lévesque. “Certainly that’s the approach I’m already taking in my conversations with equipment vendors. We only talk with compliant ones, which of course means we have the absolute latest technology in all of our switches and routers.”

Fibrenoire runs Cisco on its core backbone and Accedian for the on-site premises side. Lévesque believes that being a 2.0 pioneer has made Fibrenoire more of a partner in the eyes of these vendors.

“We sit at the table with them and talk about what needs to be tested,” he says.

A spectrum of take-up
Pioneers aside, most other major operator names are at some stage on the 2.0 certification road. A few have moved little beyond CE 1.0, while others are at a point between 1.0 and 2.0, facing further work before they get MEF approval.

There is almost certainly a division between carrier names in well-developed telecoms markets and those in developing ones. Those in emerging markets may still be getting to grips with basic Carrier Ethernet technical requirements. This may become an advantage for those that can leapfrog 1.0 and go straight to 2.0.

James Walker, VP of managed network services for Tata Communications and president of the Cloud Ethernet Forum, believes mobile backhaul will be one of the key drivers in speeding up 2.0 adoption.

“I see 2.0 offering the best way to link many different mobile service providers,” Walker says. “This is especially so in the US, where you have a mix of local and national players. I think 2.0 is a means to bring those together.”

Mike Hollands, director of the connectivity segment at data centre and co-location provider Interxion, believes mobile operators will be major 2.0 beneficiaries.

“The mobile ecosystem is one of the fastest-growing segments for co-location providers,” he says. “Mobile payments, mobile video and M2M are all putting huge demands on the networks of operators, and the enhancements coming from CE 2.0 are a key part of helping MNOs ensure end-user experience is not compromised.”

Tata’s Walker also believes CE 2.0 could broaden the usage of Ethernet exchanges.

“Perhaps exchanges haven’t fulfilled all their early intentions, but they have become very important places for mobile operators to hand traffic over to each other,” he says.

Exchanges, he points out, were envisaged as a way for large global operators to extend their reach to small local operators, but those large global brands turned out, on the whole, to prefer to rely on their own interconnections.

Tata itself, while not CE 2.0 certified yet, is well on track to be so in the middle term. Others are happy to be in the slow lane. Steve Best, MD, strategy, products and regulation with BT, is taking a circumspect view of CE 2.0 in its early stages.

OK... but not yet
“The 2.0 specifications are generally capabilities we’ve got in our portfolio, or are looking at getting,” Best observes. “We’ve got multi-COS on Ethernet, so we are well covered for the mobile market. We’ve got the services-management aspect too.”

Marcin Kotlarski, head of product development with eastern European data centre operator and carrier GTS CE takes a similar line.

“We investigated CE 2.0 when it launched in 2012 and compared it with our existing services,” Kotlarski observes. “We made the decision at the time that we weren’t going to go for certification right away. It’s not something I’d see as mandatory. It could improve our performance a little, but it’s not going to make a crucial difference in the short term. It’s certainly something we’ll be looking at in the future, though.”

As well as those opting for a CE 2.0 slow track, others may simply be struggling. David Noguer Bau, service provider solutions marketing manager for Juniper Networks, says vendors can play a part here.

“We’ve got a role helping with that side, for example helping to clarify definitions,” he says. “Not all carriers understand what all the differences are between CE 1.0 and 2.0, and for that reason some are happy to stick with what they know. They need to know, though, that CE 2.0 can help them with areas like cloud brokerage, mobile backhaul and with connectivity to multiple points outside the traditional communications ecosystem. It will interconnect carriers and services and provide a fertile landscape for all.”