Sprint finds utility in Ethernet access for growing IP/MPLS service

Mike McRoberts, Sprint

McRoberts

Ethernet over Copper won't be a big part of Sprint's (NYSE: S) planned order volume, according to Mike McRoberts, Director of Data & Voice Wireline Services at Sprint/Nextel, its data and voice wireline services director, but the provider sees key utility in serving its business customers.

Having reengineered its back office to support both Ethernet over native fiber and Ethernet over Copper (EoC), Sprint believes it has the right foundation to deliver Ethernet access to its IP/MPLS for its business customer base.

With this infrastructure in place, the service provider can now target both high-end 10 Mbps to 10 GbE requirements and lower speed 2-10 Mbps speed opportunities.

"The back office is fully in place to support either Ethernet over Fiber or Ethernet over Copper, so if those options are available to use we can take advantage of them," said McRoberts.

Following its initial 40-market Ethernet launch in 2007, the service provider announced it would make Ethernet available in a total of 65 new markets in September 2011.

With the service now available in 65 domestic U.S. markets and 40 international countries, Sprint plans to launch Ethernet access service in a number of new markets this year. Additionally, it it plans to extend services further in existing domestic markets and deepen its international footprint.

Much of this domestic and international footprint expansion was over fiber-based network facilities.

Today, the dominant Ethernet access speeds Sprint offers are 10 and 50 Mbps. McRoberts said that the wholesale pricing for fiber-based Ethernet is consistent between 2-10 Mbps. 

"Generally, if all the provider has to offer is fiber to a site we find that the price of 2, 4, 6, and 8 Mbps is the same price as 10 Mbps," McRoberts said. "The only time we generally find a granular difference in the cost is if it's over copper."

To combat this issue, Sprint has been doing some deals with an EoC provider that's given it another option to extend lower-speed 2-4 Mbps services to more customers.

Given the nature of Sprint's large geographically dispersed customer base, many of the EoC providers it has talked to don't line up neatly because many of its EoC partners typically only serve a few markets.

"The problem is that our customers are generally buying on a regional or national basis and our Ethernet over Copper providers, or at least so far, have tended to be one- or two city-oriented," McRoberts said. "Generally, the customer is looking for something consistent across all of their sites and if you can't do that they won't give you their business."

Sprint is not totally ruling out EoC, however. It is working with another unnamed service provider that has a broader EoC multicity coverage base.

"You will see us get more aggressive with some EoC offers, but I believe the vast majority of our orders (10 and 50 Mbps) will continue to be served over fiber," McRoberts said," adding that he does not "see Ethernet over Copper becoming a big part of our order volume."

Ethernet is another tool for Sprint's strong base of dedicated IP and MPLS-based service customers, besides traditional circuit-switched facilities it can use to provide access to those services.

Stopping short of revealing a specific timeline, McRoberts said that as Sprint continues to build out its last mile network it will investigate how it could roll out other Ethernet services like Ethernet Virtual Private Line (EVPL) and Ethernet LAN (ELAN).

"We don't currently offer any carrier Ethernet services (i.e. ELAN, EVPL and EVPLS), but it is something that's an opportunity for us, especially as we get expand our footprint," McRoberts said. "If you got the last mile covered then why don't you offer those things, but at this point in time we don't offer those services."  

Throughout 2012, Sprint plans to expand its Ethernet service beyond its initial 65-market footprint. Part of its expansion will be fueled, not surprisingly, by its purchase of fiber-based Ethernet supporting its wireless backhaul network initiative.

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Sprint finds utility in Ethernet access for growing IP/MPLS service