The right match

Ethernet exchangeBecoming member or even an E-NNI arrangement is not as easy as plugging in a few circuits, however.

Traditional access E-NNI arrangements aren't just a technology arrangement, but also a business arrangement between carriers. The key to making such arrangements work is a complex game of chess of making sure each carrier has the right Quality of Service (QoS) and Class of Service (CoS) profiles, not to mention billing and pricing arrangements.

Rosemary Cochran, Principal of Vertical Systems Group, said what makes the process even more complex is the fact that Ethernet "is not a single service and there's a lot of different components to it because all of the providers have different offerings and different levels of those offerings. Then there are different levels of those offerings in terms of Classes of Service, metro LAN service or VPLS service--all of those have to be taken into account--so the complexity level in terms of what needs to be connected, where and how is an art." 

Rosemary Cochran, Vertical Systems GroupAnd while the MEF has made efforts to come up with standards for E-NNI to provide a baseline set of technical requirements, getting two providers to get on the same page with billing and different price won't be solved with the Ethernet exchange either.

"Aside from just technical deployment issues, you have billing so having a directory of who's got what for sale with pricing is really not as straightforward because all of that pricing has to do with is the access piece," Cochran said. "If you already have an agreement with that provider, you may get a different price if you don't have an agreement with that provider.  

Cochran cautioned that since the Ethernet exchange primarily consists of carrier buyers and sellers to help connect their end, it's not going to create an explosion of new Ethernet growth
"Basically, the Ethernet exchange is a new access network alternative," she said. "Some people say this will spur a lot of new business, but the enterprises are really not involved in an exchange."

Along with pricing and billing, service providers that enter any E-NNI arrangement, whether that arrangement is done through an exchange of a traditional route, are CoS and QoS. To ensure CoS and QoS, service providers will make their service provider partners adhere to stringent testing process before signing an interconnection agreement.

Case in point is competitive carrier COLT (Nasdaq: COLT). While not specifically announcing any Ethernet exchange agreement, puts every carrier connection, even if its unbundled local loop (ULL) connections, wholesale DSL, and Ethernet over Copper (EoC) connections through a rigorous testing process and places its own Network Interface Device at the customer premise.

The idea behind the rigorous testing/verification process of any off-net circuit, explains Andy Radley, Senior Manager, Data Product Management, is to ensure that the customer gets a consistent experience as if they were going over their own network. COLT runs a testing/roll out program for service providers it establishes E-NNI arrangements with as well as with DSL providers.

"We don't just go another service provider and buy a DSL connection from them, but we actually test and validate to make sure we're offering a service the customer would expect even if we are using a third party," he said. "COLT wants to ensure the DSL service meets certain quality standards and that we can have management visibility so we have a test and roll out program for those providers."

The right match