Ethernet Continues to Expand Beyond the LAN

Carl Weinschenk

Traditionally, Ethernet has focused on an organization's internal communications while other protocols -- such as asynchronous transfer mode (ATM) and synchronous optical networking (SONET) -- carried the load in the metropolitan and wide area network (MAN and WAN).


During the past few years, however, Ethernet has made terrific strides in these sectors. While not everyone thinks it has a clear path to dominance, the verdict of three recent studies -- from Heavy Reading, Infonetics and In-Stat -- is that the growth will continue.


There are a couple of reasons for this. For one thing, experts say that Ethernet is better able to carry IPTV, VoIP and other IP-based traffic that increasingly dominates networking. Moreover, that standardization on the same basic family of protocols for use on the LAN, MAN and WAN creates great technical and management efficiencies.


Let's not oversimplify, however. The vast difference in throughput between even the biggest corporate LAN and a telecom network leads to differences in how the protocol is used. Telecommunications companies also have different management needs. Their role as providers of services to the public at large means they will lack the precise knowledge and control enjoyed by organizations.


These differences notwithstanding, it makes sense to think that a corporate LAN specialist can adapt to the use of Ethernet in the WAN and MAN with relative ease. Using the base protocol across the entire network creates the potential for many hard and soft benefits, such as reducing the time and money spent on training and perhaps even cutting the number of engineers that an organization needs to monitor and manage the relationship with its carrier.


Taken in this context, yesterday's announcement by Verizon is not surprising. It puts a marketing spin on the integration of LAN, WAN and MAN networking by essentially telling companies that they can treat offices in San Francisco, Omaha and Boston as if they are on the same internal network. In this case, at least, the marketeers have it right: The use of a common underlying protocol makes the vast worldwide telecommunications infrastructure more accessible and, somehow, a bit smaller.

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