TDM to IPAn announcement today about an initiative from Carrier Ethernet association MEF that has the backing of America’s largest incumbent telcos illustrates an important change in the telecom business. As MEF Director of Communications & Research Stan Hubbard put it in an interview, “Carrier Ethernet emerged as the global choice for TDM replacement.”

The MEF is serving as a “neutral forum” for AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Windstream, Frontier and hundreds of wholesale suppliers to work out the best framework for Carrier Ethernet interconnection – a framework that will be the basis for Ethernet interconnection points (EIPs) to be established nationwide and also on a global basis, explained Hubbard.

Why an Ethernet Interconnection Point is Needed
Currently carriers make bi-lateral Ethernet interconnection agreements with each other. And as Dan Blemings, director of product marketing management for AT&T Mobile & Business Solutions, explained this “involves a lot of negotiations . . . the technology piece behind the scenes was always complex.”

No two agreements are alike, as carriers work out how to handle quality of service (QoS) and other performance metrics, Blemings said. And as more and more carriers move away from TDM to Ethernet, the process is becoming increasingly unwieldy.

When the Carrier Ethernet 2.0 series of standards was adopted a few years ago, a key goal was to standardize performance parameters for various applications. But according to Blemings, that hasn’t been a complete solution.

Carrier Ethernet 2.0 certifications continue to grow and “that’s where we need to be going,” Blemings said. But he noted that some carriers can’t meet Carrier Ethernet 2.0 standards with their current equipment and “would have to forklift everything – all their Ethernet gear — and completely revamp their quote-to-cash system.”

Blemings didn’t have a specific deadline for when EIPs would be operational but noted that it will likely vary by carrier. “The MEF project is still in its nascent stages,” he said. “I’m leading calls weekly with other carriers. We’re trying to put down concrete examples of what we’ve got to test. Based on how complex the tests are, it could take a year of testing, maybe six months, maybe more. Then we will document what carriers would need to do based on the outcome.”

Participants have lined up the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab to handle testing for the EIP project.

How Many EIPs?
How many EIPs will there ultimately be?

Blemings expects the answer to vary depending on the carrier. He noted that AT&T envisions having about 100 but some carriers might not need so many.

I asked Blemings if an EIP also could serve as a traffic exchange point for VoIP as carriers look to phase out traditional telecom network infrastructure in favor of more modern IP-based alternatives.

“It could, but that’s not on the roadmap,” he said. He noted that other internal teams at AT&T are looking at other places where they will do Layer 3 interconnection. He added, though, that once EIPs are built, they “could be used for that purpose.”

MEF Service Interconnect Program
Also today the MEF announced what it is calling a Service Interconnect Program aimed at enabling smaller Carrier Ethernet providers the ability to gain MEF E-Access and future E-Transit certification without becoming MEF members. The program is open to network operators with revenues of less than $50 million annually.

E-Access service provides connectivity to a customer location and is sold by one carrier to another, enabling purchasing carriers to deliver service to locations to which they don’t have their own access links. E-Transit is an emerging standard that defines a service that interconnects two network operators, Hubbard explained.