Cisco lifts lid on Metro Ethernet advances

The launch of a new switch and a series of enhancements for its existing products are Cisco's latest moves in the Metro Ethernet space

Cisco launched a range of network products on Tuesday to help drive adoption of Metro Ethernet -- a technology hailed as an ideal means for providing large numbers of high-speed broadband and VPN connections at relatively low cost.

The firm launched its latest line of Metro Ethernet switches, called the Catalyst 3750 Metro Series, at its Cisco Connection 2004 event in Interlaken.

The 3750 series, according to Cisco, will enable telecommunication service providers to offer more sophisticated services to companies over Metro Ethernet. "The 3750 is an improvement on our existing Metro Ethernet switches because it allows service providers to offer premium Metro Ethernet services, such as Level 2 and 3 VPNs (virtual private networks)," said James Collinge, Cisco manager of Ethernet access product marketing in the US, speaking at the event.

Collinge also said that the 3750 series incorporates a technique called 801.1Q tunnelling, which is also known as QinQ. When combined with another feature developed by Cisco called Class of Service (CoS) mutation, QinQ can let service providers offer proper service level agreements for their Metro Ethernet services, as they will be able to prioritise the transportation of certain elements of a customer's traffic, such as Voice over IP traffic.

This could help to address one criticism levelled at Metro Ethernet networks in the past -- that they are not suitable for applications that require very low latency because they cannot distinguish between Ethernet frames carrying traffic for different applications. According to Cisco, this problem has now been resolved.

"The market and regulatory focus is still on services like DSL, but the time is right for next-generation products like Metro Ethernet," said Michael Ganser, Cisco vice president. Two versions of the 3750 will go on sale from the end of January: an AC-powered model costing from $6,995 (£3,865) and a DC-powered model costing from $7,995 (£4,420). A basic licence will cost some $3,000 (£1,660) and an advanced licence will cost $12,000 (£6,600).

Cisco also said on Tuesday that QinQ support has been added to its 4500 series of Metro Ethernet switches, to improve the delivery of virtual local area network (VLAN) links between physically separate corporate sites. CoS has just been added to Cisco's 7600 and 6900 series to support Level 2 and 3 VPN services.

Critics of Metro Ethernet have suggested that business and consumers are not yet ready to pay for broadband connectivity over fibre, and that telcos who are still rolling out slower, copper-based services like DSL are not prepared to invest in Metro Ethernet at present. Cisco, which hopes to sell its optical networking equipment to service providers, insists that Metro Ethernet's time has come.

"The market and regulatory focus is still on services like DSL, but the time is right for next-generation products like Metro Ethernet," said Michael Ganser, Cisco vice president.

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