Ethernet in the first mile

BY MARK DARBY

Ethernet has established itself as the most widely used networking protocol within the customer premises, and with the advent of Gigabit Ethernet and standards work conducted in the 10-Gbit range, is growing as an alternative service offering in carrier space. The proliferation of Ethernet standards continues unabated as IEEE 802.3 now begins to address the application space between the customer premises and network point of presence (PoP), otherwise known as "Ethernet in the first mile" (EFM). A study group has been formed within IEEE 802.3 to examine the subscriber access space and determine if and how Ethernet can be applied.

The EFM study group, chaired by Howard Frazier of Dominet Systems, is focused on establishing the scope and objectives of a proposed EFM standard. Initial progress has been made in establishing fiber-based objectives employing point-to-point and point-to-multipoint optical-fiber technologies. Objectives encompassing wired technologies such as copper twisted-pairs have found heavy interest within the EFM study group; however, convergence on specific copper-based objectives still needs to occur. Objectives common to both copper-based and fiber-based camps within the EFM work include the desire to remove costly protocol conversions within the subscriber access end points and provide a more symmetrical rate of flow between the end points.

The most common broadband solutions typically have an upload rate that is less than the download rate. Specific copper-based EFM objectives will revolve around the continued use of the existing twisted-pair infrastructures, while fiber-based objectives will reflect issues common to existing fiber-to-the-curb or -home architectures. In each case, the low cost and simplicity of Ethernet can provide this application space with the bandwidth it needs as its requirements change. Significant interest also exists in the study group to specify capabilities to support operations, administration, maintenance, and provisioning for use of Ethernet in subscriber access networks.

The EFM work began with a call for interest meeting that was held in Tampa, FL, where more than 150 industry representatives from more than 60 companies attended. The fiber and wire camps quickly established themselves in pursuing objectives for the work within the study group. As of the March IEEE 802 Plenary in Hilton Head, SC, the study group has been successful in establishing the group's criteria to move forward as an official task force in IEEE 802.3. The EFM will have met during an interim plenary meeting in St. Louis and expects to formally request task force status at the IEEE 802 plenary in Portland, OR.

More information on the EFM study group can be found at the IEEE Website, http://grouper.ieee.org/groups/802/3/efm/public/index.html.

Mark Darby works on subscriber access technologies for INS-Broadband Access at Lucent Technologies and represents Lucent in IEEE 802.3. He can be contacted at tel: 732-949-2998; fax: 732-949-6860; e-mail: mdarby@lucent.com.

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