When Slower Is Better: Low-Speed Ethernet Access Gains Ground

B. Washburn

B. Washburn

Summary Bullets:

  • Copper-based Ethernet has two primary flavors, with differing characteristics
  • For sourcing copper-based Ethernet, look beyond those making the most noise

Enterprises want Ethernet: easy, cheap, fast Ethernet access into which they can plug, without dealing with leased circuit transport details.  Carrier Ethernet access is easy enough to get at addresses served by fiber.  However, addresses served by copper are also coming online, with two Ethernet flavors:

  • Ethernet over TDM: This is a traditional T1 or higher-speed leased circuit(s) that rides Ethernet on top.  Ethernet over TDM is easy for a carrier to roll out (it is possible to serve a whole metro area from one central location), so these services are more readily available.  The tradeoff is that the underlying transport is still T1 service with good reliability, but only symmetrical 1.5 Mbps circuit capacity at a cost of hundreds of dollars per circuit.
  • Ethernet over copper: This requires a device in each central office that loads copper pairs with Ethernet service.  These services are highly localized, and available speed options, though symmetrical, are all over the map.  Some services are limited to 2-3 Mbps; others top out at 10, 20, or 30 Mbps; still others claim possible speeds up to 100 Mbps.  In all cases, the cost is lower than the equivalent in T1 leased circuits.  If Ethernet over copper’s service quirks sound similar to those of DSL broadband, there is a reason: The technology uses symmetrical DSL and rides Ethernet on top.  Most of these services have decent reliability, because they use multiple copper pairs; if connectivity fails on one of them, it only means a speed slowdown until the problem is addressed.

Those companies competing against the incumbents have been making a lot of noise about copper-based Ethernet options, including national competitors Level 3, XO, MegaPath, tw telecom, PAETEC, and EarthLink Business, as well as regional/local players such as Integra Telecom, TelePacific, and Cbeyond.  However, we would make the following general recommendations for enterprises looking to upgrade their T1 circuits to Ethernet:

  • For locations served by fiber, just go with services from the fiber.  It is usually a simple, scalable, reliable, and well-priced option.
  • Check with the incumbent local provider(s).  Incumbents such as AT&T, Verizon, and CenturyLink have deployed a lot of their own Ethernet over copper.  They do not publicize these services because of their limited availability (it would be counter-productive to advertise these services, only to have to turn many businesses away).
  • Check with the current contracted service provider(s).  Some big Ethernet over copper players resell service.  An enterprise’s contracted service provider(s) may not have in-house low-speed Ethernet options, but can get them on request.
  • Check local cable companies.  Some of the big cable providers have both fiber-based Ethernet and low-speed Ethernet access via their hybrid fiber/coax networks.

Are you interested in getting lower-speed Ethernet access options?  Are you able to get your telecom provider’s attention and/or services, and are they delivering to expectations?  If so, we would love to hear from you.

About Brian Washburn
Brian Washburn is Research Director for Network Services at Current Analysis. Brian tracks the technology and initiatives surrounding carrier Ethernet, IP-VPNs, optical networking and applications closely tied to high-performance networking.

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