ORLANDO — What are the issues facing cable operators as they seek to deploy metro Ethernet services? Communications Technology assembled a panel of experts to address this topic at its Platinum Awards breakfast held yesterday in conjunction with the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo.
Cost is a big issue for many operators, noted Wayne Ebel, client director for Juniper Networks. “Ethernet in general is broadly adopted, and cost per bit is improving and driving costs down,” he said. “But we know it’s still a challenge. It’s not just the Ethernet. There’s CPE and a huge network behind it that has to scale, has to be resilient, and has to be fast.” He added that some operators subsidize the rollout costs of metro Ethernet by selling backhaul links served by unused ports.
Guaranteeing end-to-end quality of service can also be an issue, especially if you’re a small operator. “Our challenge is that we’re basically a hole in a vast Time Warner donut,” said Robert Gessner, president of Massillon Cable TV, the 2012 CT System of the Year award winner. He noted Massillon may have customers that would like to be part of larger metro Ethernet. “We know that’s possible, and we’re interconnected with Time Warner and Armstrong. But we don’t control the network end to end,” he said. This can cause problems with service level agreements, as technicians outside of Massillon’s network can make changes to switches that could degrade service to customers and not even know it.
Does a lack of fiber impact rollout for metro Ethernet? Not for the operators on CT’s panel. In fact, Massillon Cable has a fiber surplus. Gessner recounted how, on the eve of his company placing its fiber order, Alcatel called to say it has just lost an order. Rather than have its plant sit idle, Alcatel offered Massillon a discount. The prices were half of what the cable operator was expecting.
“Instead of chopping spending in half, we doubled our fiber order,” Gessner said, adding that the company has built 216-count fiber rings, and has legs with 48 and 72 fibers. “When a school comes to us and says, ‘We want fiber,’ we say ‘sure,’” he said.
Comcast Cable’s Jennifer Yohe Wagner, vice president/Strategic Business procurement, concurred. “We don’t have to [build out fiber] often,” she said. “We don’t have any legacy areas that have to be upgraded or replaced.” This is good news for potential enterprise customers as Yohe Wagner added that, in the future, Comcast won’t just be targeting small- and medium-sized businesses with metro Ethernet. “We’ll be moving toward large businesses as well,” she noted.
As with all communications technologies, metro Ethernet isn’t sitting still. “Standards bodies are working on the need to harden the solutions,” said Juniper’s Ebel. “As we mature, we will see these commercial services provided by metro Ethernet scale to high numbers, ” noted Ebel, who added that the industry will benefit significantly from this new revenue source.
“Our challenge as a supplier is, ‘How do I build systems that ease and increase speed to market?’ and ‘How do I have feature-rich edge devices that are smaller, more scalable, and have better price points,’” he concluded.
— Jennifer Whalen