A new network hardware testing standard will encourage enterprises, service providers and telcos to adopt cheaper and more flexible Ethernet technology for data, voice and video connectivity.
The Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), an industry body supported by switch suppliers, telcos and services companies, has introduced a testing procedure to make it easier to integrate Ethernet switches and routers into carrier and enterprise networks.
Ethernet is an alternative to more expensive and less flexible ATM, Frame Relay and SDH-based network hardware commonly found in carrier and enterprise wide area networks.
Analyst Infonetics Research says worldwide metro Ethernet equipment revenue was worth $3.8bn (£2.23bn) in 2004, and estimates this figure will double to $7.6bn by 2008.
Enterprise users are already familiar with Ethernet in their local area networks, and the MEF initiative is set to make it easier for firms to integrate their LANs with the wider networks of their service providers. This enables easier delivery of services such as video conferencing, video streaming and more demanding data applications such as data back-up and shared network storage.
The MEF 9 testing standard for carrier services sees network hardware suppliers having to meet certain criteria with their products to be accredited with "carrier Ethernet" status.
Using the accreditation scheme, enterprises wanting to use hardware from more than one supplier will find it easier to mix and match suppliers if they know that certain hardware complies with the same standard.
The standard will also allow carriers to concentrate their resources on making Ethernet-based services work properly, rather than worrying about basic network interoperability issues.
The MEF says 16 companies now sell hardware that meets the carrier Ethernet standard, after the products came through MEF-sponsored tests. Those on the list include Alcatel, Cisco, Extreme Networks, Fujitsu, Lucent, Nortel, Riverstone, Siemens and Tellabs.
Deutsche Telecom's enterprise customer division T-Systems supports the new standard. A spokesman said, "As a carrier, multi-vendor interoperability is an important prerequisite for us to implement carrier-grade Ethernet networks."