NFOEC debacle hinders Metro Ethernet mesh push

Vendors advocating optical Ethernet and mesh topologies in the metropolitan area did not do themselves any favours at last month’s National Fiber Optic Engineers Conference in Baltimore.

Presenters in two sessions – Optical Ethernet and Metro Networks Inc. – could not adequately field and answer tame questions from attendees. They stammered, danced around and offered vague, content-free replies to questions like:

How and why would a service provider migrate from a revenue-generating ring to a mesh?

How does protection and restoration, which is understood in rings, work in a mesh?

What are the cost and service benefits of a gigabit Ethernet PON (passive optical network) over cable and DSL (digital subscriber line), or even plain old telephone service? On this topic specifically, a vendor was hard-pressed to demonstrate how a gigabit Ethernet PON offered any new service beyond the US$100 to US$200 people pay monthly right now – including yours truly – for local phone, cable and broadband Internet access.

Also, a vendor proposing a hybrid Ethernet/SONET implementation over a “Gigabit Packet Ring” – ostensibly a bastardization of the emerging IEEE 802.17 Resilient Packet Ring standard – failed to provide specific economics of this approach versus SONET running data or Ethernet performing circuit emulation. The vendor merely offered “expectations” that there’s a “cost penalty” in adapting TDM to packet and vice versa.

It seems the metropolitan optical Ethernet/mesh proponents did more to convince service providers to retain their SONET rings than they did to urge a migration to packet-optimized architectures. They not only did service providers a disservice by not doing their homework, but they also did their companies a disservice by possibly delaying or even eliminating a potential revenue stream.

Renowned industry consultant Tom Nolle says companies building their business on Ethernet eventually becoming the service provisioning infrastructure for the metropolitan-area network will be dead in six months. With last week’s NFOEC debacle, it may be sooner.

Duffy is a writer for Network World (U.S.) He can be reached at