Cost-effective, ubiquitous and converged: these three benefits are leading more and more communications operators to consider Ethernet for their metropolitan area networks.

Fast, functional and familiar from long use as a staple computer networking technology, Ethernet is quickly gaining popularity in the world of urban telecommunications.

But “carrier grade” Ethernet isn’t quite the same as the technology in our LANs. According to Michael Arden, ABI Research’s principal analyst of broadband technologies, “carrier grade” means enhancements allowing it to equal SONET and SDH networks in terms of protection and disaster recovery. It can manage the packets just as effectively, and can interact with TDM and other formats.

Of Ethernet’s three main benefits, Arden considers its lower cost to be the key, as long as the perception of traditional Ethernet’s technical limitations can be corrected.

ABI Research’s new study, “Carrier Ethernet Equipment and Ethernet Services”, examines the growth of the market for carrier-grade Ethernet equipment at the core, edge, and access levels of the network and explores the Ethernet services that are driving the demand.

It also looks at the market’s structure. “We divided the market into ‘core’, ‘edge’ and ‘access’ categories,” says Arden. “Access technologies are very different from core and edge,” he observes, “and even they differ from each other in scalability. Previous research doesn’t even address the access part of the carrier Ethernet network.”

Another strength of the report, says Arden, is that it looks closely at the operators adopting Ethernet. Surprisingly, they’re not always the big incumbents. Ethernet’s early-adopters are often cable companies and Tier 2 CLECs hoping to create a service that differentiates them from their larger competitors.

That may be smart strategy for operators, but perhaps less so for equipment vendors. Those who can offer end-to-end Ethernet solutions have a significant advantage, as do those with existing supplier relationships with operators. But startup vendors unable to address all market segments should consider alliances with better-established players.