AT&T says Ethernet interconnection success depends on understanding partners

AT&T (NYSE: T) has been working with the MEF to drive consensus on how service providers should interconnect their Ethernet networks, but the initial challenge is understanding what element of Ethernet each carrier partner has.

In 2015, the MEF addressed that issue with the "Ethernet Interconnect Point E-NNI Implementation Agreement – MEF 54." With this new IA in place, service providers will have guidelines to create these new interconnections either all at once or in a series of steps.

Dan Blemings, director of Ethernet product management for AT&T mobile and business solutions, told FierceTelecom in an interview at the telco's Dallas headquarters that in developing the MEF 54 standard, the organization and other providers realized they have to work with a diversity of approaches.

"One of the lessons learned in MEF 54 is this concept of the bilingual operator," Blemings said. "If you wanted to connect with an Ethernet service provider on your boundary, you needed to know their flavor of Ethernet: was it an old style NNI or an MEF-compliant E-NNI."

AT&T itself borders hundreds of Ethernet providers, including a mix of cable operators, CLECs and other ILECs. The service provider said it is seeing other providers adopt the MEF 54 standard and are preparing their networks to better address the interconnection issue.

"We're seeing the industry really start to grow on its learning curve of taking the right steps they need to take, asking the right questions of who's on their border, and start to have discussions with their vendors on is their equipment ready," Blemings said. "We're starting to see that unfold, which is very rewarding as an AT&T employee and from a MEF perspective the project accomplished what it set out to do."

Even as the MEF helps service providers in the broader Ethernet services community migrate to a more organized Ethernet interconnection regime, there are still a number of challenges.

"You can look at it through several angles," Blemings said. "One angle is, MEF has standards in place that help carriers make the transition and the other angle is 'how do I understand how to implement those standards and MEF 54 helps kick start that process.'"

Blemings said that the next step for Ethernet is to mirror how service providers created interconnection mechanisms for TDM-based networks.

"Just like the world grew up in this TDM environment and that commonality enabled this internet growth that we have seen over the years," Blemings said. "Now we have to replicate that same sort of rapid expansion with Ethernet where we need to have everyone talk about Ethernet in the same manner and enable the next massive growth curve of bandwidth."

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