Cisco this week announced a service provider appliance that the vendor says will help carriers better deliver on the promise of what it calls the "connected life," by bringing fiber connectivity to multi-tenant units like apartments.
As service providers continue to jockey back and forth to differentiate themselves by offering new advanced services, Cisco's service provider senior marketing manager Mike Capuano said the focus is really on the end users, who demand connectivity and the ability to create their own mix of services, whether it's video, voice, IPTV or a combination of many.
"The critical competitive element is to deliver a great customer experience," Capuano said. "End users can create their own service mix if they want to."
The appliance, the ME 3400 24FS, is an update to Cisco's Carrier Ethernet portfolio of its IP Next-Generation Network (IP NGN).
According to Capuano, the ME 3400 24FS delivers fiber to multi-tenant units to enable high-density fiber deployments. He claims that providers can install the box in building basements to ensure in-building reach in a pay-as-you-grow fashion. Port options accommodate fiber and copper and visibility and control over bandwidth.
"Using the ME 3400, providers are able to pinpoint troubleshooting, delay-free access to personalized content and advanced entertainment service delivery unrestrained by distance," Cisco said in a statement.
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Pinpointing trouble on a massive service provider network has been difficult in the past, according to Eve Guilloches, program manager of telecom infrastructure at IDC. And as the Carrier Ethernet market continues to be a growth area, a better understanding of the network end-to-end has become imperative.
Many vendors are making appliances for the core of the telecom network and moving slowly to the edge, Guilloches said. But the inherent problem with Carrier Ethernet is its need to be more reliable, especially as service providers offer new services like IPTV. The ability to manage the network from end-to-end will help ensure that the network is reliable, she said.
"[With Cisco IP NGN Carrier Ethernet] software can go all the way through fiber directly to the customer to understand what's going on at the customer site," she said. "What you want to do is have as much visibility as possible."
Guilloches said service providers want to know exactly where a problem lies -- whether it's in the satellite feed, the core, or at the customer site. Since data traverses a great deal of network infrastructure, it was difficult in the past for service providers to determine just where the problem lay.
"There are a million ways to screw it up," she said. "Now at least they can diagnose the problem to know where it's falling apart."
Ricky Wong, chairman of Hong Kong Broadcast Network, agreed that troubleshooting was difficult, especially with the mass of traffic and the increased use of new, advanced services.
"With the target to cover two million households for triple-play services on our Carrier Ethernet network, quality of experience is of the utmost importance," Wong said in a statement. "Given the growth of traffic and subscribers, working to ensure it is an ongoing challenge."
Cisco's IP NGN Carrier Ethernet design enhancements include:
- Adding SONET/SDH SLAs to Ethernet by offering 50 millisecond recovery from the core to the customer. That resiliency is supported in mesh and ring topologies and can be applied across Cisco's Carrier Ethernet portfolio with a software upgrade.
- Enhancements to its OAM and IP SLA with a new Embedded Event Manager (EEM), which automates network troubleshooting of Carrier Ethernet deployments. Cisco claims the EEM allows providers to have the network monitor and correct itself to reduce outages, resolve issues and improve quality.
- An IPTV SLA, which provides visibility into video on Ethernet networks via IP multicast. IPTV SLA lets providers look inside MPEG packets to determine whether a video problem is due to encoding or a network transmission issue. It helps identify the channels and multicast groups affected, the location in the network, and the number of subscribers affected, for faster correction of video problems.
Ray Mota, vice president at Synergy Research Group, said both customers and providers can benefit from being able to offer Carrier Ethernet with better SLAs -- customers get more bandwidth and services at a better price, and providers can offer a cheaper and more competitive price point than their competition.
Mota said service providers are constantly asking themselves, "Am I able to maintain the service level of customer experience, and am I able to scale? They need to continue to address this to maintain the expected customer experience."
Vendors are going to keep offering service providers some level of end-to-end management in order to stay relevant in the changing market, Mota said, especially as customers continue to expect high service levels. He said the market will see other vendors reacting to Cisco's approach and following suit.
"This is a reaction to Ethernet being used by more and more carriers," he said. "Whatever vendor comes out from now on is going to have to offer this end-to-end management."
"Cisco and all of the other vendors are trying to help service providers offer new services and offer them faster," Guilloches said. "That's going to keep happening."