The World Runs on Ethernet: Service Providers

June 13, 2023
The volume of consumption that service providers drive is so immense that they continue to help fuel innovation of Ethernet technology.

With a sharp focus on optimizing dollars per gigabit per kilometer, service providers drove higher-speed Ethernet and longer-reach solutions for decades. Historically, they faced a fundamental geography problem—how to get huge amounts of traffic quickly from one city to another across their service footprints.

The environment has evolved. Today, content is replicated much closer to the metro areas that they serve, and service providers often are no longer the first adopters of Ethernet’s absolute highest speeds.

However, the volume of consumption that service providers drive is so immense that they continue to help fuel innovation of Ethernet technology. Service providers’ multi-service aggregation needs continue to grow with support for router connections, Ethernet Passive Optical Network (EPON), optical transport network (OTN), and wired and wireless backhaul.

Dell’Oro Group in June 2022 reported that the North America and Caribbean and Latin America (CALA) regions led the worldwide service provider router and switch market in the first quarter of 2022 with double-digit revenue growth. Network expansions for internet and cloud backbones, mobile transport, and broadband aggregation composed the bulk of North American projects, the report found; scaling mobile backhaul infrastructure drove the CALA growth.

“Strong demand for SP Routers in North America and the CALA region was driven by the ramping adoption of 400-Gbps technologies by Cloud SPs and capacity expansions by Telecom SPs,” said Ivaylo Peev, senior analyst at Dell’Oro Group, in introducing the June 2022 report. “As SPs continued increasing investments by working on a large number of use cases across a broad area of network segments.”

Where next?

5G mobile deployment in particular is fueling especially dramatic increases in both fronthaul and backhaul applications, which continues to push Ethernet requirements for higher rates and longer distances. In short, a lot of traffic is hitting cell towers, and that traffic needs to be brought up into the network with very accurate timing. The evolution of 5G is driving the whole backhaul/fronthaul discussion.

Ericsson wrote in its June 2022 Mobility Report: “5G is scaling faster than any previous mobile generation. By the end of this year, we expect 5G subscriptions to reach 1 billion. We see a strong growth when it comes to mobile data traffic. Globally mobile network data traffic has doubled in the last two years, driven by continuing growth in smartphone usage, mobile broadband and the digitalization of societies and industries. By the end of 2022, the average monthly usage per smartphone is expected to surpass 15 GB, and then grow to 40 GB by the end of 2027.”

Indeed, Gartner predicts 60% of communications service providers to offer commercializable 5G services by 2024—up from 10% in 2020. Michael Porowski, senior principal research analyst at Gartner, explained, “The COVID-19 pandemic spiked demand for optimized and ultrafast broadband connectivity to support work-from-home and bandwidth-hungry applications, such as streaming video, online gaming, and social media applications.”

With global consumption of video across devices for business and residential services alike, the pressures on service providers show no signs of abating.

Paving the way forward

Several efforts are underway within the IEEE 802.3 Ethernet Working Group to support service providers’ growth moving forward:

Tracking progress

As illustrated in the Ethernet Alliance’s Ethernet Roadmap and this Lightwave blog series, Ethernet’s adoption continues to spread across application spaces with increasing diversity in its rates and implementation:

  • New higher-capacity modules are being introduced to support multiple ports of a lower rate of Ethernet as their primary purpose.
  • In some cases, the new higher rate of Ethernet that a module can support is in process to be standardized, such as with 800-Gbps and 1.6-Tbps Ethernet.
  • A new co-packaged optics approach promises target implementation capacity that goes well beyond even the rates of Ethernet in consideration (e.g., 3.2 Tbps).

Already, the Ethernet Alliance is planning for future iterations of the publicly available roadmap, and we encourage service providers to participate in the process and offer their unique perspectives and experiences. Please visit our website to engage.

Peter Jones is the chair of the Ethernet Alliance. He is a Distinguished Engineer in the Cisco Networking HW team. He is active in IEEE 802.3. He works on the evolution of technology to add value to physical infrastructure and make technology consumable.

Dr. Jeffery J. Maki is a member of the board of directors of the Ethernet Alliance as treasurer and an IEEE 802.3 Ethernet voter. He is a Distinguished Engineer II at Juniper Networks working on cloud optics.

Mark Nowell is an advisory board chair for the Ethernet Alliance. He is a Cisco Fellow in Cisco’s Optics and Optical Systems Group. His focus is on next-generation interconnect technology innovation to meet Cisco’s needs.