AT&T (NYSE: T) may be accelerating its Ethernet capabilities to threaten BT (NYSE: BT) and Orange Business Services in the global Ethernet race, but the service provider still faces challenges in establishing interconnection agreements with other carriers outside of its wireline territory.
What's challenging for AT&T and other Ethernet providers is that there's no standard method to establish an external-network to network interconnection (E-NNI) agreement with other providers since they all have their own flavors.
In response to such concerns, MEF has developed the "Ethernet Interconnect Point ENNI Implementation Agreement – MEF 54."
Representing the completion of Phase 1 of the MEF EIP project, the new IA gives service providers guidelines to create these new interconnections either all at once or in a series of steps.
One of the key tenets of the MEF 54 standard is to create harmony in the Ethernet interconnection process between service providers that need to provision services outside of their wireline network territories for business customers.
While the MEF has created multiple specifications (including MEF 33) to create a foundation for "plug-and-play" CE 2.0 interconnections, most service providers still use non-standard, custom-built, network-to-network interconnections (NNIs) that are slow and costly to set up.
After talking to its service provider members to understand why the market was not moving towards standardization faster and uncovered key obstacles that needed to be addressed. This spawned the creation of the of the EIP project.
EIPs consist of all elements of Ethernet interconnection -- including all the requirements needed to provide a customer with an end-to-end Ethernet service spanning multiple operators. Specifically, the MEF addressed location selection, E-NNI parameters and the alignment of business processes.
The EIP effort will also create guidelines for Ethernet equipment providers with the rapid prototyping environment and Carrier Ethernet (CE) 2.0 certified equipment. At the University of New Hampshire Interoperability Lab (UNH-IOL), the MEF created a prototyping environment that can be remotely accessed by project participants to assess the implementation of draft sections of the EIP Implementation Guide using CE 2.0 certified equipment with their respective configurations.
AT&T, Verizon (NYSE: VZ) and Windstream were among the first in a group of Tier 1 service providers to join the MEF to drive the next phase of the organization's EIP project in 2015.
Later, CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL), Frontier and TelePacific joined the project.
"What happened is we had six large operations under one roof at the University of New Hampshire and conducted interoperability testing with various configurations," said Dan Blemings, director of Ethernet product management for AT&T Mobile and Business Solutions in an interview with FierceTelecom.
During these testing events, AT&T and other providers tested non-standard NNIs since each provider has various interconnection quirks related to their Ethernet networks.
Blemings said that these "multiple flavors are causing the market to slow down."
The second configuration the group tested was the E-NNI between operators. MEF then had service providers test both the new and proprietary specifications and document the results.
One of the things the group found was that service providers could not exchange Ethernet traffic between a non-standard and standard E-NNI.
"Based upon all the testing we did last year, we were able to identify some key learning," Blemings said. "Number one was there's no way to have a non-standard NNI interconnect to a new E-NNI and if one operator like AT&T and another operator want to perform an Ethernet interconnection between us we need to know exactly what they're doing."
Blemings said that in order for Ethernet connection to become more streamlined, service providers have to support a mix of standard and non-standard interconnection services.
"We have coined this new phrase in MEF 54 called the 'bilingual operator,'" Blemings said. "We define bilingual as an Ethernet network that can operate using a non-standard NNI and speak this new language of E-NNI, which is important because the market is replete with NNIs."
Blemings added that if an operator "jumps to the new standard, they may not be able to connect to some of their neighbors."
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This article was updated on April 12 to reflect that Metro Ethernet Forum is now referred to as just MEF.