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Analysis: Carrier Ethernet

Carrier Ethernet promises higher data rates, more flexible provisioning and lower cost than conventional WAN technologies, but coverage is spotty. We spoke with Qwest and surveyed our readers about the

Are frame relay's and sonet's days as kings of the WAN-connectivity hill coming to an end? The evidence is there: Carrier Ethernet port shipments are projected to skyrocket, with growth of more than 700 percent between 2005 and 2009, according to Infonetics Research. The analyst firm further estimates that worldwide sales of Carrier Ethernet switches and routers will hit $4.6 billion by 2009. As for the "whys" of this shift, our reader poll revealed that IT pros like Carrier Ethernet for LAN-to-LAN networking, Internet access, VoIP, file transfers and business continuity/disaster recovery. All these deployments require high data rates and low latency, and Carrier Ethernet, aka Metro Ethernet or Ethernet Services, beats other WAN technologies cold when it comes to delivering improved reliability plus more--and more flexible--bandwidth, generally with lower costs.

We say "generally" because last-mile connectivity is still inducing some sticker shock. Yes, service providers claim that cost savings of 20 percent to 50 percent can be gained by choosing Carrier Ethernet over comparable WAN services, and this is largely true ... when service is within a single metro area, with existing fiber, and when providers can use lower-cost switches and pass that savings along to customers.

However, prices for long-haul connectivity haven't dropped as dramatically. Providers we spoke with point out that last-mile connectivity is still a significant cost, especially when facilities need to be brought in to support Carrier Ethernet at the point of presence in addition to laying fiber to the building.

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