Extending Ethernet with copper is gaining steam

Vendors have been offering products that use bonding or VDSL-like techniques to provide copper extensions to high-speed data services for years. In some markets outside of the U.S. these services are quite popular (using VDSL coding to provide fiber extension), but in the U.S. they’ve always been a bit of a slow starter.

We think that this trend is starting to turn around as the products become more mature, more inexpensive, more effective and more integrated into the network – particularly as they become a more integrated part of the Metro Ethernet network that most providers have built out around their fiber footprints.

One big driver here is the development of standards. Things like IEEE 802.3ah have pretty well defined a big chunk of what’s needed for copper-based Ethernet in the First Mile (EFM). But perhaps just as importantly, the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF) has put together a comprehensive certification system for “Carrier Ethernet.” Just as Wi-Fi certifications helped push 802.11 into a broader market, we think that MEF certifications may help move 802.3ah gear forward as well.

In fact, in the past couple of weeks the group has announced its first set of Carrier Ethernet Certifications, giving its blessing to a number of products including the first copper-based Carrier Ethernet certified products. This certification provides a globally-applicable end-to-end standard for Ethernet services, providing carriers with assurances that Ethernet services using certified products will be consistent regardless of vendor or even access type.

We recently spoke with the folks at Actelis – a long time player in the copper fiber extension market and the first copper-based solution to gain this MEF certification. They have begun selling EFM copper solutions to a variety of carriers – up to and including Tier 1 ILECs and RBOCs – with the products being used for Ethernet services that are well integrated into the carrier’s existing Ethernet infrastructure and service offerings.

Bonding up to 8 pairs with Actelis’ gear, carriers are offering services between 4M and 40M bit/sec symmetric, and transparently extending their Ethernet offerings beyond their fiber reach.  These products have been designed to be spectrally compatible worldwide, and can be software reconfigured to fit the regionally appropriate band plans.

And these services can be added easily - Actelis tells us that some of their customers only have Metro Ethernet infrastructures (switches and such) in 20% or less of their offices in some regions, but they can use a SONET ADM to simply backhaul copper Ethernet customers back to another CO via DS-3. There’s also an option to add some CWDM gear to the COs and carry the Ethernet traffic via a separate wavelength – upgrading facilities for a more widespread Metro Ethernet infrastructure without a ton of Capex.

Of course solutions like Actelis’ are only worthwhile if they meet customer needs. There’s long been a gap in the market between DSL-based services or T-1 services, and higher speed services requiring fiber to the premises. We’ve seen many different solutions step into this fray – bonded DSL, for example – but none have really grown beyond a niche.

Ethernet, however, may finally have reached such a level of saturation in the marketplace and acceptance as a tariffed service that is reaching the mainstream. And Ethernet is only going to become truly mainstream if it can be offered over copper as well as fiber.

Getting solutions into the market that meet standards, are certified by MEF and actually fill these service gaps is the key. With the new generation of MEF certified solutions, a carrier can drop Ethernet into places where it’s not been available, and do so without breaking the bank on Capex and without reconfiguring or forklifting out big chunks of the existing network infrastructure.

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