Ethernet Alliance

Ethernet Alliance Blog

“Collaborative Vision: the role of Carrier Ethernet in the Ethernet ecosystem” Nan Chen, president MEF

By Nan Chen

Q: How does the Metro Ethernet Forum fit into the Ethernet ecosystem? What role does it serve and why?

The Metro Ethernet Forum was created to accelerate the adoption of Carrier Ethernet networks and services. Prior to the MEF’s formation, Ethernet was primarily designed for enterprise applications. The MEF’s mission is to help enable carriers to develop ubiquitous business services and applications that can be widely accessed over a variety of networks. Now that Carrier Ethernet, as defined by the MEF, has emerged as the predominant medium for carrier networks and related services, the industry has grown from zero to $100b in 2016, according to multiple analyst projections.

Q: How has Ethernet’s 40 years of success affected the MEF and its members?

One key to Ethernet’s success has been its ability to unite disparate members of the greater Ethernet ecosystem and build them into a strong community. Carrier Ethernet is part of that overall community.

We’ve moved far beyond the traditional “feeds and speeds” definition of Ethernet and have defined a new dimension of innovation moving through the service layer, all of which bolsters the position of Carrier Ethernet. We’re really building up our market and I’d go as far as characterizing the last 10 years as the ‘decade of Carrier Ethernet’.

This celebration of Ethernet’s 40th anniversary gives us the opportunity to commemorate the great strides the Ethernet ecosystem has made in the last four decades, as well as the MEF’s own successes, and those of our members. We’re very pleased to be taking part in this historic milestone for an amazing technology.

Q: What are your thoughts on Carrier Ethernet, Carrier Ethernet 2.0, and now, Carrier Ethernet 3.0?

The first iteration of Carrier Ethernet – Carrier Ethernet 1.0, if you will – was defined in 2005. Its purpose was to help distinguish between traditional Ethernet and Ethernet that has characteristics that are specific to carriers, such as QoS. It has been very successful and has become a foundational element for the carrier community.

Carrier Ethernet 2.0 builds on top of Carrier Ethernet 1.0 by adding three significant attributes: Multiple Classes of Service (Multi-CoS), Interconnect, and Manageability. Introducing Multi-CoS proves Carrier Ethernet is much more than just lower-cost, high-speed TDM replacement. We’ve standardized three classes of service based on clearly defined performance objectives and mapped 20 application types in those three classes. This Multi-CoS standardization enables, for the first time ever, true industry-wide adoption, ensuring delivery of unprecedented network efficiency, significant cost-savings, and global interconnect while ensuring end-user applications function properly in Multi-CoS implementation over regional and global networks. Collectively, these multi-class features alone have advanced the state of the art for telecom and networking.

The second attribute is Interconnect, the ability to connect Ethernet quickly and easily between carriers so that it becomes more ubiquitous. The third aspect is Manageability, which enables seamless operation in the existing Carrier Ethernet environment. CE 2.0 was a very important milestone for both the MEF and the industry, as it has provided functionality native to Ethernet that didn’t exist before.

Carrier Ethernet 3.0 is definitely on people’s wish list – Bob Metcalfe, for example. However, as we’re still in the early stages of 2.0 deployment, it’s a bit early to be talking about the next iteration. Bob is a great visionary who always pushes us to go further and do more, but it took the collective effort of the entire industry just to bring Carrier Ethernet 2.0 to market. Carrier Ethernet 2.0 is going quite well and we’re seeing continuously growing momentum.

Q: How do you view Ethernet services in relation to 40GbE? 100GbE? 400GbE?

Services remain a different dimension than feeds and speeds, which is what IEEE focuses more on. We’re seeing a lot of momentum in the rate of Ethernet speeds, and we certainly welcome IEEE’s work on making higher speeds a reality. The introduction of higher Ethernet speeds will help sate the world’s growing appetite for faster access to ever-growing volumes of data, new services, and innovative applications.

Q: What infrastructure developments does the MEF and its membership see as being needed?

I see speeds as a dimension where IEEE has always been able to improve things and where more development is needed. However, we’re also seeing growing momentum in cloud-based services, which alludes to a need for Ethernet to better support cloud computing services. Ethernet does by in large support cloud, yet there are still technical challenges that can and should be addressed.

The MEF recently pursued and established a strategic relationship with the CloudEthernet Forum. We’re hoping to advance Ethernet in the cloud, as there is a great deal of interest from our members.

Q: What will Ethernet’s Next Big Thing be? Where will this technology take us next? What emerging trends and/or technology innovations and advancements do you feel will have the greatest impact on Ethernet?

Ethernet has always proven to be a resilient technology in terms of business models. One thing I still believe to be true is that a large part of Ethernet’s success has come about because it is the “cheapest good enough” technology.

There are three areas of note that will drive Carrier Ethernet growth in the short- to mid-term. The first is continued momentum in mobile backhaul – nothing but Carrier Ethernet can fit the bill for the continued explosion of mobile data that the world is experiencing. Carrier Ethernet continues to grow into a way to support this incredible explosion of mobile data.

The second area is the cloud-based revolution, where Carrier Ethernet can be the fabric for the delivery of next-generation services and applications. Carrier Ethernet provides connectivity to these services on-demand regardless of geographic borders in a fast, reliable, and cost-effective manner. 

The third area is the whole notion of software-defined networking whereby you see the management layer, as well as the control layer of Carrier Ethernet become the consciousness of the network. Ethernet speeds and feeds will continue to grow but the brain of the network will become intelligent enough to direct and orchestrate the traffic, not only from a dynamic configuration perspective but also from a manageability perspective.

Q: Any final thoughts you’d like to share?

We’re all part of the larger Ethernet world…closer collaboration makes sense. The MEF, IEEE, and Ethernet Alliance – we’ll all continue to grow, as will Ethernet itself. Closer collaboration between those individuals and organizations that support Ethernet will prove a benefit to the industry as a whole.

Click here to learn more about “The Future of Ethernet” TEF!


The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the individual(s) and should not be considered the views or positions of the Ethernet Alliance.


Ethernet for the Ages: A Discussion with Bob Metcalfe

By Bob Metcalfe

Q: What is Ethernet? Bob Metcalf

A: Ethernet began as a very high-speed packet-switching local area network (LAN) for extending the Internet into buildings to reach personal computers and their servers. However, Ethernet has been evolving and re-invented for some 40 years, making it so much more than just a networking technology or a means for connecting computers together. At its heart, Ethernet is a brand – an innovation brand.

Brands make promises, so it’s entirely appropriate to ask what promises Ethernet makes…such as the promise of openness, interoperability, and higher speeds at lower costs. Ethernet’s promises also come in the form of open jure standards; owned rather than open source implementations; and fierce competition but interoperability among competing products. It also means preservation and backward compatibility with the installed base and the rapid evolution of IEEE standards based on market engagement. Long live Ethernet!


Q: How did you come up with the idea of Ethernet?

 A: While at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), I was given the job of networking buildings full of what were arguably the first personal computers (PCs). I combined concepts like Internet packet switching from the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) and multi-access randomized retransmission from ALOHAnet. I then asked Dave Boggs and others to help me build the first Ethernet-based networks starting in 1973.

The terminal on my desk at Xerox PARC was communicating at 300bps the day before we installed an Alto PC and Carrier Sense Multiple Access with Collision Detection (CSMA/CD) Ethernet running at 2.94Mbps. It was about 10,000 times faster; we went that fast because we could, and because our new laser printer could consume 20Mbps.


Q: Ethernet seems to be the proverbial “lightning in a bottle”; what do you attribute Ethernet’s success to? How and why did it come to be one of the world’s most disruptive networking and communications technologies?

A: Ethernet was developed in the context of the seven-layer ISO networking reference model. It knows its place at the bottom of the protocol hierarchy; therefore, Ethernet can be very simple. For example, Ethernet carries packets without acknowledgement, assuming they will be handled above, say in TCP/IP.

Ethernet has generally been simpler, faster, and cheaper than its competitors. It has always been as fast as it can practically be, with little regard for current application requirements, so if you build it, they – new applications, that is – will come. Added to that is the decision to make Ethernet an open standard and the creation of IEEE Project 802 to perfect its standardization. It was the perfect recipe for capturing that so-called “lightning in a bottle”.

Ethernet’s competitors were not committed to the idea of open standards or interoperability with their competitors. So Ethernet – fast, cheap, reliable, and interoperable – was able to eventually win the LAN wars that raged throughout the 1980s.


Q: What did you hope to originally accomplish with Ethernet? Did you ever imagine it would grow into the ubiquitous technology that it is today?

A: Our initial motivation for Ethernet was to build our own tools to connect our desktop PCs to the ARPANET and our EARS laser printer. However, these tools escaped us to eventually serve uses we never imagined – for example, YouTube. Now that we are “Gigafying” the Internet,  I cannot wait to see what the next big new applications will be. Connectivity is good.


Q: What is the most innovative application you’ve come across that relies on Ethernet?

A: Everything uses Ethernet, so it’s hard to pick one. How about the US F-16 fighter jet?


Q: What’s next for Ethernet? Where might we see the next generation of Ethernet innovation come from? Automotive? Internet of Things? Energy?

A: As it has for the last 40 years, Ethernet continues to evolve, however, there are five key paths for its future. Ethernet is moving up into the LAN to 1Tbps; into WANs and replacing SONET; over the airwaves as Wi-Fi; and down to embedded microcontrollers thanks to standards like IEEE 802.15.4. It is also bridging across the “telechasm” between carrier WANs and customer LANs as Carrier Ethernet via service providers.

Ethernet needs to continue evolving, especially given the Gigafication of the Internet. The Internet reduces market frictions and expands freedom of choice. Ethernet will need to be ready to support coming Internet-driven disruptions, particularly in areas like energy, education, and healthcare.Bottom of Form


Q: Is there anything you’d do different with Ethernet, now knowing what you know?

A: I would not have described Ethernet’s multi-access packet contention as “collisions.” Buyers too often thought wrongly that Ethernet collisions were like breaking glass and bent metal. There are still people today who are forced to use Ethernet but complain about it being “non-deterministic” because of those damn collisions. There has not been a reported Ethernet collision in decades.





The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely that of the individual(s) and should not be considered the views or positions of the Ethernet Alliance.