Ethernet and fiber fuel Time Warner Telecom

Time Warner Telecom (Littleton, CO) recently unveiled the fourth product in its Ethernet service portfolio. The company believes Ethernet, fed by fiber either natively or over SONET, will provide it with a competitive edge, particularly against ILECs offering traditional Frame Relay (FR) and ATM alternatives.

"The one thing that really appeals to customers about Ethernet is that they're familiar with it and it tends to be lower-cost," says Mike Rouleau, senior vice president of strategy and business development at Time Warner Telecom. The managed voice- and data-networking solutions provider offers its metro Ethernet-based services at 10-, 100-, and 622-Mbit/sec and Gigabit Ethernet rates designed to enable customers to mix and match according to their requirements.

Customer Direct Native LAN offers point-to-point unmanaged Ethernet. Time Warner Telecom provides the service on a wavelength basis using DWDM equipment purchased from LuxN (now part of Sorrento Networks). Meanwhile, Switched Native LAN, as its name implies, relies on switching equipment (purchased from Cisco Systems) located at both the customer premises and the company's central offices. A fiber ring network links the switching systems. Rouleau reports that the service has been very popular as a replacement for FR backbones. "The nice thing about Switched Native LAN is that it looks a lot like a virtual packet service—so much like Frame Relay or ATM—but uses native Ethernet protocols and VLAN technologies to deliver customer service," he says.

The carrier aims its third offering, Ethernet over SONET, at customers who require service assurance. "We've been deploying next-gen SONET gear and taking advantage of the data capabilities that exist in those boxes," Rouleau explains. "So we can deploy on a blade level Ethernet services, but also...if you're in a point-to-point configuration, for example, we can deliver all of the SONET characteristics for Ethernet—sub-50-msec protection switching, etc." Time Warner Telecom turned to Cisco for this equipment as well and has installed both 15454 and 15327 boxes in its network.

Extended Native LAN represents the company's newest offering. Announced at the end of January, the service offers connections beyond the local metro-service area. As is the case with the other services, customers pay on a by-port basis without incremental bandwidth or distance charges.

All these services require fiber directly to the customer. "We've lit nearly 4,200 buildings across our 44 markets with fiber and have services active in those buildings," Rouleau says. "We have another several hundred buildings that we've got fiber deployed to."

The amount of fiber in its network puts Time Warner Telecom in rather exclusive company; only the RBOCs and "a few IXCs" can match the company's footprint when it comes to buildings connected, Rouleau believes. However, the fact that Time Warner Telecom uses its optical infrastructure to deliver Ethernet services provides a competitive advantage, in Rouleau's eyes. That is particularly true in comparison to incumbent carriers, which Rouleau believes are loathe to erode their existing FR and ATM revenues.

"We win with metro Ethernet over Frame Relay every day," Rouleau says. "Customers displace Frame Relay backbone networks and put in much higher capacity, much better scalability, and much lower total cost of ownership with our metro Ethernet service than what they could ever get with Frame Relay."

Rouleau also thinks he has an edge versus ATM-based services. "I don't dispute that ATM is great infrastructure, but I still don't see a lot of customers adopting it," he observes. "I think there are several applications that a customer may want to use ATM for, but with the focus in the industry around IP and MPLS and the QoS [quality of service] implementations, I just think it's a level playing field."

Thus, Rouleau says that Time Warner Telecom would not be affected if the RBOCs turn to fiber to the premises. "Any time we sell metro Ethernet or native LAN to a customer, we're delivering fiber to that business. So I don't see really any kind of impact from an RBOC, should they ever deploy fiber to the premises," he explains.

Most customers use their services to provide computer-to-computer connectivity, including Internet access, Rouleau says. Storage services also have proved popular. Regardless of the direction future customer requirements may take—and the company is looking into voice over IP in anticipation of one such direction—he feels Time Warner Telecom's optical infrastructure will adapt.

"We have a very robust set of capabilities in the markets we're in," he says. "We cover both the metro with a variety of services and the long-haul. All of the infrastructure is QoS-enabled and IP/MPLS-enabled. So I think the question for us is, now that we bring this converged network to a customer, what are the services we layer right on top?"

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