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February 23, 2018
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Comparing Metro Ethernet and MPLS Networks
Competition for classic point to point connections now includes Metro E and MPLS.

By: John Shepler

In addition to dedicated Internet access, many companies also need point to point private lines and/or multipoint network connections. The classic way to accomplish this has been to lease private lines to create your own wide area network setup. There are two other methods available that can give you the same results for considerably less cost.

What is Metro Ethernet?
Metro Ethernet service has been seen as a way to get point to point connections in town at a lower cost than leasing dedicated line services, such as DS3 or OC3. This service is called E-Line or Ethernet Line. It’s is standardized by the MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum) so you can compare E-Line services from multiple vendors and know that you are getting the same product.

Ethernet vs DS3
What’s the difference between ordering an E-Line connection at 50 Mbps versus a DS3 dedicated line at 45 Mbps? When you order a dedicated line, you can envision having a pair of wires going from your headquarters, through a cross-connect at the telco central office and then out to your branch office. That’s probably true for a T1 line provisioned on two twisted copper pair. When you get into DS3 and higher bandwidths, your connection will probably be carried via SONET fiber optic service using an add/drop multiplexer. Along the way, your signal will be traveling with many other who share the same fiber strand.

Shared Network Advantages
Here’s what’s important: Unless you actually go out and construct or lease the copper or fiber transmission medium, you are using a shared or multi-tenant service. It’s true with Metro Ethernet and MPLS Networks. It’s also true with dedicated line services. The difference is that MPLS and Metro Ethernet are packet switched networks while T-Carrier and SONET services are circuit switched. With circuit switching, the circuit is used only for your traffic on a single path that is “nailed up” for the time you hold the lease. With packet switching, other traffic can share common paths through the network. That does two things. It lowers the price of the service and it makes some additional services possible.

Metro Ethernet has both an Ethernet Private Line and Ethernet Virtual Private Line service available. The virtualization means that you only need to install one Carrier Ethernet port to have connections with two or more locations. The actual physical line is shared among your own traffic. You may have ten or more branch offices, retail stores or other locations in town. With EVPL you can have point to point connections to many locations coming in through one UNI (User Network Interface).

Ethernet LAN Service
Here’s another service you can get with Metro Ethernet. It’s called E-LAN or Ethernet LAN service. This is a meshed network that lets many locations all communicate without going through a single point. E-LAN is popular for interconnecting a company’s many independent LANs in the same geographical area. This can be done at the layer 2 level so that the entire network looks like one giant bridged network.

MPLS Network Applications
Interconnecting multiple locations is also the domain of MPLS or Multi-Protocol Label Switching networks. Many of these have regional, national or even international service footprints so that all of your far flung locations can interact on the same network. MPLS may be the solution of choice for covering geographical areas larger than a single city and its suburbs. MPLS can also be used to create point to point connections for only two locations. When those locations are located on opposite coasts or in different countries, MPLS can be a better deal than Ethernet Line service or point to point dedicated line services.

How to Choose?
Since Ethernet and MPLS services overlap to some extent, what criteria do you use to make a choice? I’d recommend getting price quotes for these, plus dedicated lines, and comparing the total lease cost for the same bandwidth and other requirements.

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