Delivering metro Ethernet over copper, fibre

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Ethernet is fast becoming the protocol of choice for metro networking, but with only about 10% of buildings connected via fibre, service providers and their customers are left with a challenging situation: How do you deliver Ethernet transport services to the other 90%? Enter startup Ceterus Networks (Allen, TX) and its Universal Transport System (UTS), which enables the delivery of metro Ethernet services over existing fibre and copper infrastructures. The UTS bonds any transport medium onto a single virtual bandwidth pipe, providing what the company is touting as "any transport, any bandwidth."

The UTS system solves two problems simultaneously, say company officials. First, by bonding the line-side facilities from DS-1/E1 to OC-n onto a single pipe, the UTS can reuse the existing infrastructure, including add/drop multiplexers and other network elements. Second, the UTS more efficiently utilises transmission facilities by combining all client signals—regardless of type—into a single payload. Legacy circuits run at only about 40% efficiency, claims senior marketing director Michael Horton, who adds that the Ceterus UTS system uses 98.4% of the available bandwidth for transport (the rest is for overhead).

The UTS is based on the company's patented Multi-Transport Bonding Architecture (MTBA), which has four key characteristics: (1) The line side and client side are "decoupled," which means they do not have to be perfectly matched; (2) its point-to-point connection provides security without an additional overlay; (3) it provides dynamic bandwidth transport; and (4) it provides a migration path for future growth to 160 Gbits/sec over 5,000 km.

"We bring the clients in, and through our own framer we allocate the clients across all the available bandwidth stream," explains Horton. "If there is a failure in the bandwidth stream, then the framer will automatically reallocate the clients on the fly to what is left in the bandwidth."

The Ceterus system also features performance characteristics similar to native ATM, frame relay, and SONET transport. It uses quality of service parameters to prioritise users' bandwidth requirements based on three levels of service.

Ceterus hopes the minimal capital investment needed to deploy the UTS will also be attractive to carriers. The company's largest system, the carrier class UTS 1100, lists for about USD20,000, while its smallest system, designed specifically for copper and T1/E1 bonding, lists for USD5,000. Horton compares that to the cost of a single router blade, which could run anywhere "between USD28,000 and USD30,000," he says, "and you need one blade for each end of the system."

Moreover, the company promises an attractive return on investment. The low cost of the device and its quick installation time—it takes under two days to install and can be turned up in a matter of hours—enables the service provider to sell the service first, then buy the equipment later. Horton claims the UTS can generate a positive ROI in six months based on one client; multiple clients will make that ROI even faster.

The Ceterus system may look great on paper, but is there anything the company left out? Ron Westfall, analyst with competitive intelligence firm Current Analysis (Sterling, VA), admits the company could face "notable competitive challenges." For example, its competitors—including manufacturers of multiservice provisioning platforms (MSPPs), integrated access devices (IADs), DSL/Ethernet access equipment, and DSLAM equipment—will likely try to position the UTS "as a proprietary solution," says Westfall. "While Ceterus uses standard interfaces and technology to enable the MBTA dimension of the UTS platform, standardisation hasn't been fully achieved in areas such as link capacity adjustment."

That said, Westfall believes the company is off to a good start. "Despite its startup status, [Ceterus] is already shipping product and generating revenue from a number of substantial customers, and its UTS metro Ethernet solution offers very compelling service delivery capabilities," he says.

The company is said to have at least four customers on board, including Neopolitan Networks (Palo Alto, CA) and Progress Telecom (Raleigh, NC), both of which are evaluating the UTS 1000 in their labs. Global Crossing (Hamilton, Bermuda), meanwhile, has completed lab-test certification of the UTS.

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