Metro Ethernet, or “Metro-E” for short, is a high capacity broadband service offered to businesses around the world using a fiber optic cable for transit between the carrier network and the end-user. The word “metro” refers to the fact that the fiber optic run spans from one side of the city to another, and “Ethernet” refers to the type of IP handoff involved at each end of the connection. Unlike copper-based TDM services that are available just about everywhere, Metro-E is limited only to buildings in which fiber has been connected by a commercial internet service provider
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ETHERNET OVER COPPER AND METRO ETHERNET?
The main difference between these two broadband delivery methods is the physical connection between the end-user and the carrier backbone. Both technologies employ Ethernet protocol, but the connections are what makes all of the difference.
The the EoC scenario, the carrier transmits the signal from it’s backbone network to a LEC Central Office nearest the end-user. From there the signal rides over the LEC’s copper pairs to the end-user’s building, and from there into the carrier’s router, and into the customer’s LAN switch. In the Metro Ethernet scenario, the packets start in the carrier’s backbone network (or from the data center where the end-user’s private/public cloud is located) and run directly to end-user’s building… directly. Metro-E is a direct as it gets.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN PURCHASING METRO ETHERNET SERVICES?
After helping clients find Metro Ethernet services for over 10 years, we’ve learned a few things. Here are the highlights:
Upfront Fees – Unless your building is already lit, there is going to be some expense to build fiber into your building. The real question is: who is going to eat it? The answer: it depends. If you will commit to a higher speed (read: higher monthly spend), and a 3-year + term commitment, the amount a carrier is willing to swallow goes up. If you are looking for a 10MB connection on a 1-year term agreement, odds are the carrier is going to pass all of the construction costs on to you. But do not fear, if you can pool a group of companies in your building together, the carrier will see more revenue per month coming from your building and that could help justify a free build for you.
Cross-Connection Fees – even if there is already fiber in a building, like data centers, a carrier can (and probably will) still charge you to plug-in to their network from your network. These fees typically aren’t very much, but don’t be shocked if you come across them.
Term Commitments – every Metro Ethernet provider will ask you to commit to a 1, 2, 3, or even 5 year contract. There are some excellent discounts (on the order of 15-20% off) for you if sign longer term agreements. Second, customers who sign longer commitments are more likely to see the carrier swallow the entire construction cost (if construction is required).
Upgrade-ability – the great thing about Metro Ethernet is that you can change (up or down) Expect to pay more for additional bandwidth, which can be upgraded in less than 24 hours from your request. Some carriers will let you ‘burst’ for a specified time and only charge you for the time your burst, keeping your bill nice and low.
Installation – the Achilles heal of fiber is that construction can take a LONG time. Right-of-Entry permits, City permits, and construction crew schedules all have to align for you to get your fiber, assuming the building you are in is “dark”.
The other main difference between EoC and Metro-E is the bandwidth capacity. Electrons are used to communicate information over the copper conduit, and when electrons move down a wire to create a current, they create consequently a magnetic field. Simply put, magnetic fields act like a un-greased wheel on a car, creating a sort of electronic friction that slowly degrades the signal each foot traveled down the wire.
Fiber, the transport media in Metro-Ethernet, is a tube of glass – surrounded by a dielectric coating, that conducts light, as in photons. Light, which does NOT generate a magnetic field, can be transmitted in a strand of fiber almost an unlimited distance at close to the speed of light – which we know is very fast. The primary limitation on fiber data transmission is the pace at which the physical switches and routers can process the information.
Today’s best hardware, coupled with modern data compression techniques, allow for a transmission rate of 40 Gigabytes per second. Within the next five years it is expected that 100 Gig of capacity will be available through the fiber already in the ground. THAT is fast!
“So, why doesn’t everyone just use fiber-based Metro Ethernet?” you ask. There is little question that Fiber optic transmission is important to wide area network architecture. Several businesses have already made the decision (and investment) to deploy fiber in their private WAN networks. However, total “fiber miles” in the United States is still quite a bit lower than “copper miles”. This trend will continue until carriers and Cable companies invest billions of dollars to build up their fiber assets to reach the point of ubiquity with the copper network.