Cable MSOs: Taking care of business with Carrier Ethernet

While the roots of cable multiple-system operators (MSOs) are firmly planted in the delivery of video services, they have emerged as a strong presence in the overall networking industry. Many MSOs have evolved their business models and are offering a range of integrated residential services, including broadband Internet access, telephony, voice over IP (VoIP), and video-on-demand.

MSOs also are taking the lead in a market segment that until now has been relatively underserved by incumbent telecom competitors: the business services market. Many have recognized the growing opportunity to deliver resilient, reliable, high-capacity data services to businesses and are creating unique, differentiated service offerings that are allowing them to become key players in this expanding market.

How have the cable MSOs successfully transitioned from their traditional role as video content providers to delivering the 99.999% reliability, 50-msec protection, and other features necessary for businesses’ most mission-critical communications needs?

First, the cable MSOs have a number of advantages on their side as they pursue the business services market, including a strong demand for mission-critical data services in key vertical markets; MSO-owned fiber plant in local communities; focused, localized support, service, and marketing; and a keen understanding of the particular needs of their regional target customers.

Second, MSOs now are able to deploy highly resilient Carrier Ethernet-based networks, which enable the delivery of a wide range of high-speed, service-level agreement (SLA)-backed business services.

Layer 2+MPLS-based networks leverage the attributes of Carrier Ethernet, as defined by the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), to deliver:

• High scalability that supports flexible service creation and optical integration with no VLAN limitation and all services mapped to label-switched paths.

• 50-msec protection via MPLS fast reroute with no spanning tree.

• Guaranteed, end-to-end SLAs for connection-oriented services with committed information rate (CIR) and excess information rate (EIR).

• Seamless integration of TDM traffic for the support of existing voice applications.

• Carrier-class service management (OAM) capabilities that enable fast service creation, integrated third-party management, and customer network management capabilities.

These characteristics allow the MSOs to quickly craft and deliver differentiated services that are turning business customers’ heads.

While the incumbent phone companies have struggled to scale their legacy networks to support bursty Ethernet services backed by SLAs, the business services arms of many cable operators have moved quickly. They are leveraging new L2+MPLS Carrier Ethernet architectures to deliver unique, scalable, and flexible Ethernet services. These service offerings encompass not only the “best effort” services offered by MSOs’ competitors but also mission-critical, guaranteed SLA, 50-msec protected Carrier Ethernet services.

The ability to support a range of SLAs for various types of traffic and data rates allows cable MSOs to tailor service packages for individual business customers. The ability to bundle legacy TDM and new data services in a single Carrier Ethernet platform is further driving their ability to be the single provider for all of their target business customers’ communications needs.

In this context, service management is key. The extensive service management functionality that Carrier Ethernet delivers means MSOs can quickly define and deliver services; rapidly handle moves, adds, and changes; and offer customer network management, which allows end customers more control over their particular service needs. These capabilities give MSOs a huge advantage against the incumbent providers, which often don’t have similar abilities to deliver services quickly or to accommodate rapidly changing service needs.

With their localized presence and Carrier Ethernet-powered infrastructures, MSOs are succeeding in highly attractive business services market segments, including small and medium-sized businesses, hospital networks, educational institutions, and regional government networks.

Wholesale access to the out-of-region players from other ILEC regions is another emerging business opportunity that MSOs are successfully pursuing.

Small and medium-sized businesses. Optimum Lightpath, the business telecommunications services division of Cablevision Systems Corp., is the fourth-largest local exchange carrier in the New York metropolitan area, serving more than 4,000 enterprise customers in the healthcare, education, government, financial services, ISP, and carrier and service provider markets. It has leveraged a Carrier Ethernet infrastructure to firmly establish itself as a leader in the delivery of business services. In fact, Optimum Lightpath has added more than 190 new customers in the last year, winning 40 new accounts in the month of August alone.

Earlier this year, Optimum Lightpath became one of the first seven service providers in the world-and only commercial services division of a major North American cable provider-to earn Carrier Ethernet certification from the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF). The company subsequently received the MEF’s “Carrier Ethernet Service Provider of the Year-Outstanding Innovation” award for North American Carrier Ethernet providers in recognition of its innovative delivery of Carrier Ethernet to create voice and data communications solutions for businesses in the New York metropolitan area.

With its Carrier Ethernet infrastructure, Optimum Lightpath offers a variety of Ethernet-based services, including the Lightpath E-Line and E-LAN Ethernet services and dedicated Internet Access via Ethernet service, all of which are delivered via a single converged network. Developed in response to requests from enterprise customers for resilient, reliable, high-capacity data services, all of Optimum Lightpath’s Ethernet-based offerings support flexible bandwidths and SONET-like 50-msec protection, enabling mission-critical IP-based data, Internet, and voice services for medium and large businesses in the healthcare and education industries, government agencies, financial services, carriers, and service providers.

Optimum Lightpath’s suite of Ethernet services provides users with high-bandwidth connectivity at prices well below the cost of traditional high-capacity services (DS3 and OC-n) for point-to-point or multipoint applications, such as video conferencing, off-site storage, distance learning, medical imaging, and Internet access. Optimum Lightpath’s services provide organizations with the flexibility, cost savings, and budgetary stability they need to link multiple locations, run bandwidth-intensive applications, and converge multiple types of content over a single network infrastructure.

With its Carrier Ethernet infrastructure, Optimum Lightpath is able to deliver a range of metro Ethernet offerings that reduce its customers’ costs, increase their productivity, and improve their operational flexibility-while lowering its own capital and operational expenditures.

Hospitals. For a variety of competitive, regulatory, and profitability reasons, hospitals nationwide are upgrading their networks. Faced with the need to better manage an ever-increasing volume of patient records and electronic images (thanks in part to new regulations such as HIPAA), expand the capacity for storage/backup, deploy multipoint networks that seamlessly connect office locations, deliver telemedicine services, and ensure reliable Internet access, hospital administrators are asking for scalable, reliable, cost-effective network architectures that will meet their current needs as well as those they’ll have well into the future.

One example of a Carrier Ethernet deployment in this area is Optimum Lightpath’s selection by the North Shore-Long Island Jewish (LIJ) Health System to engineer, build, install, and maintain a new metro Ethernet WAN. One of the nation’s largest nonprofit healthcare systems and the largest healthcare system in New York State, North Shore-LIJ will use this extremely reliable high-speed communications network to facilitate the efficient sharing of information between its hospitals and community-based physicians.

When completed, the new WAN will replace North Shore-LIJ’s existing ATM network with a virtual private IP backbone network that will incorporate Layer 1 and Layer 2 functionality into both the campus and remote locations system-wide. This unique network design will empower North Shore-LIJ with a migration path that supports existing and emerging bandwidth-intensive IP applications throughout the geographic scope of the healthcare system.

Schools. Schools and other educational institutions also are facing competitive pressures and internal requirements to become more efficient and cost-effective. Coupled with the need to comply with regulations such as the “No Child Left Behind” initiative, many are finding that their existing networks are simply not up to the task at hand.

Cox Communications, for example, has leveraged Carrier Ethernet technology to deliver a converged voice, video, and data services network for the New Orleans Public Schools (NOPS). Cox Communications is the third-largest cable provider in the nation and 12th-largest telephone company with more than 6 million customers. Its business-to-business division, Cox Business Services, provides advanced voice, data, and video products and services to more than 100,000 business customers in industries ranging from healthcare and hospitality to government and education.

Designed to link nearly 140 schools and administrative sites, the NOPS network delivers high-speed, guaranteed services, including Internet access, VoIP, IP/H.323 videoconferencing, and distance learning to each location, enabling an improved educational experience for students and increasing efficiency for communications amongst its locations.

Of particular interest to NOPS was the MEF-compliant CIR capabilities of the network, which allow Cox Communications to accurately control bandwidth and ensure that each school site has an equal share of bandwidth and services. Further, the system will allow Cox to manage the bandwidth it delivers NOPS as the school system’s needs change over time.

Government institutions. As recent events have highlighted the need for faster communications among various local government divisions, and as institutions seek to reduce their use of paper and improve their efficiencies, many governmental offices are realizing the need to upgrade their communications infrastructures. Carrier Ethernet’s high scalability, resiliency, and flexibility make it a perfect tool for MSOs seeking to pursue this expanding market segment.

Further, to help make their communities more attractive to new businesses and families and, in turn, increase their tax base and diversify the local business makeup, numerous municipalities are constructing local fiber networks. Carrier Ethernet technology is well suited to these projects with its ability to support a range of residential and business services over a single universal infrastructure.

In summary, the business services arms of cable MSOs are leading the development and delivery of unique Carrier Ethernet services in the United States. Their local presence and keen understanding of regional markets combine nicely with their ability to deploy scalable Carrier Ethernet technologies that bring synergies for the delivery of video and business services. These factors give MSOs a clear advantage for meeting the pent-up demand for resilient, reliable, high-capacity services among the small to medium-sized business market as well as targeted verticals such as schools, hospitals, and government institutions.

Umesh Kukreja has more than 17 years of experience in the marketing of data communications products and services. As director of marketing for Atrica (www.atrica.com), he is responsible for all outbound marketing strategies and programs, and helps guide carriers’ service development teams worldwide in their development of Carrier Ethernet services for vertical markets. He can be reached at umesh@atrica.com.

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