Carrier Ethernet market still growing, study shows

Video traffic is a big driver

Making a call using a mobile device over a wireless cellular network is so commonplace today that it's easy to forget the huge networks, comprised of wires, cell towers, routers, switches and data centers, that power those calls.

As it turns out, one of the oldest wired networking standards, Ethernet, is at the center of the service provider infrastructure, even to support mobile connections, mainly along mobile microwave backhaul links.

Ethernet is really a family of networking standards that dictates how data should travel across a distance. Carriers use it for twisted-pair copper cable connections that reach to homes and businesses, but also for fiber optic cable links over longer distances and inside of network cores and data centers. But it is also used for mobile backhaul, the distance from a cell tower to a switching office or between switching offices. For mobile backhaul, the medium used is actually microwave over the air, based on Ethernet as well.

Ethernet equipment, which got its start in 1980, is still popular with carriers, and is growing faster in sales than overall telecom capital expenditures, said Michael Howard, principal analyst for Infonetic Research. Its growth has defied the recession, he said in a recent report.

Worldwide, service providers invested $21.6 billion in Ethernet products last year, a number expected to reach $32 billion in 2014, Howard said.

"Carrier Ethernet technologies and products are a permanent, ingrained, inseparable, and growing part of service provider networks," he said. The products are used in nearly every part of a service provider's network for customer access, mobile backhaul, mobile core, broadband, broadband backhaul and optical transport, he noted.

Carriers are using Ethernet gear to support IP network transformation projects, related to growth in network traffic, particularly video traffic, from consumers, businesses and mobile networks. Ethernet microwave is the fastest-growing segment of the carrier Ethernet market and is used in mobile backhaul.

Infonetics studied more than 30 makers of Ethernet gear, noting that Cisco Systems continues to lead in sales of carrier Ethernet switches, Ethernet IP core routers and IP edge routers.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld . Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com .

Read more about networking in Computerworld's Networking Knowledge Center.

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