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Extreme looks to put Ethernet in the last mile

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SANTA CLARA - Extreme Networks is developing WAN modules for its Alpine metropolitan-area switch that will let the box provision businesses with Ethernet services over telephone company circuits.

The new WAN modules are part of Extreme's strategy to make Ethernet a standard in last-mile transport for service providers. The modules could result in service providers offering new Ethernet services that run over DSL or T-1 connections, instead of expensive metropolitan-area fiber links.

The technology underlying the modules was developed by Optranet, a broadband equipment start-up, which Extreme is in the process of acquiring. Optranet's modules include technology for running Ethernet over traditional telco wiring and legacy WAN links.


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Extreme plans to ship T-1, DS-3 and very-high bit rate DSL (VDSL) modules for its Alpine metropolitan-area network (MAN) switch platform in the second quarter of this year. The VDSL blade is now in customer trials, with the other two modules going to customers in the next two months, according to Extreme. The technology behind these WAN modules is based on a pending IEEE standard, IEEE 802.3ah, to run Ethernet over the last mile.

Extreme has pushed 10G Ethernet over fiber as the future technology of metropolitan-area service transport. The move to support copper-based WAN technology is driven by one simple consideration, according to Extreme CEO Gordon Stitt: "Some places just can't get fiber."

"What we needed to do is to get to those places in the same Ethernet-everywhere network without digging a trench" to lay fiber-optic cable, he says. "Instead, we can use existing telco circuits, so that all services such as [quality of service], [virtual] LANs and Layer 3 switching can now be going down over the same legacy links."

Service providers in the multitenant unit market could put an Alpine in the basement of a building and provide business customers with 1M bit/sec to 10M bit/sec Ethernet services using VDSL over phone wiring, Stitt says. Alpine's ability to carve bandwidth with Ethernet's QoS would make these granular levels of bandwidth possible, he says. The new modules would also let providers sell Ethernet-based transparent VLAN and VPN services.

Companies could take advantage of the technology by deploying Alpine switches as routing equipment to create an all-Ethernet WAN over their existing T-1 and DS-3 lines, Stitt adds.

One analyst sees the "Ethernet-everywhere" plan as plausible, but not imminently deployable.

"Ethernet as a mature service has some growing up to do," says Ron Westfall, an analyst with Current Analysis. He points out that a majority of WAN lines are still in the ATM/T-1 realm. Another impeding reality is the fact that regular DSL has not become a ubiquitous service and is still unavailable in many areas, he adds.

"Nonetheless, Extreme seems to be on the right side of the curve in terms of what they're offering," he says. Ethernet over VDSL and T-1 "is a neat way for Extreme to allow carriers to address a greater range of customers, while still stepping toward the more mature, end-to-end Ethernet services of the future."

Westfall also sees potential for the Alpine in enterprise WAN switching.

"Large corporations with their own in-house IT staffs are already comfortable with Ethernet on the LAN side . . . and could adopt Ethernet over VDSL for connecting offices within a MAN ring or for extending to branch offices," he says.

Extreme on Jan. 9 announced its plan to acquire Optranet, a start-up broadband equipment maker, for approximately two million shares of Extreme stock. The deal is scheduled to be completed by the end of the month. The announcement may have been the catalyst behind a surge in the company stock, which rose almost 20% from the day before.

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