by Stuart Hardy, Business Unit Manager of EOH’s Carrier and Network Solutions Division
It’s always difficult to make solid predictions, especially when it comes to competing technologies. The best technology doesn’t always win (remember VHS vs Betamax?) and there are many non-technical factors that come into play.

This notwithstanding, I’d like to cast a brief, high-level eye over the enterprise networking space in South Africa, and weigh up some of the factors that will determine whether we’ll see carrier Ethernet replacing MPLS networking, as it has in other countries.

I believe the most fruitful approach is to assess the value, or possible drawbacks that both bring, and then isolate some particularly relevant characteristics of the South African landscape that may well influence the levels of Carrier Ethernet adoption.

How do MPLS and Carrier Ethernet stack up?

MPLS and Carrier Ethernet have emerged as the dominant WAN connectivity technologies, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.

MPLS, as a WAN technology offers specific advantages. It is much cheaper than Frame Relay and ATM, and offers easier network expansion. It is also less costly to maintain, thus giving a more cost-effective network that is cheaper and easier to manage. It has high quality of service attributes to go with this.

Carrier Ethernet is the extension of Ethernet technology so that Ethernet network services can be provided by carriers into metropolitan area networks and WANs. It is effectively a method that allows providers to take advantage of the scalability, cost-effectiveness and the technology maturity levels of Ethernet in a WAN and MAN environment.

Widespread Internet adoption has largely been due to Ethernet technology, which enables data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps. It is thus capable of delivering high-speed networking in data intensive environments.

The South African scenario

Possibly the three biggest factors influencing networking in South Africa are: deployment availability, cost sensitivity and bandwidth demand.

South Africa is experiencing increased demand for networking infrastructure that can deliver cloud services, data intensive technologies like video and VoIP, and mobile applications. This requires high-performance, packet-based networking. Most indications are that Carrier Ethernet is best able to quickly handle a move to packet-based technology an environment that is characterised by a combination of LANs and geographically spread out WANs.

The cost-effectiveness of Carrier Ethernet is also a big factor in its favour. Because Ethernet technology is so widely used in many different types of networking equipment, it has become relatively inexpensive to deploy – especially when it comes to interconnecting LAN with WAN. Networking remote branches in a large geographic territory like South Africa particularly benefits from these cost-efficiencies and simplicity of implementation, relative to MPLS.

Carrier Ethernet also allows for quick deployment of networking, especially in the light of the roll-out of business fibre connectivity in the larger South African cities. Once the fibre lines are in place, connecting premises using Carrier Ethernet is quick.

So while the jury is still out on whether Carrier Ethernet will replace MPLS, there seem to be definite indications that it offers some very specific advantages that make it particularly suited to the conditions in the South African market.

Direct comparison: Carrier Ethernet vs MPLS

When considering these two technologies a few of the most important networking aspects the following can be concluded:

MPLS is usually more expensive than Carrier Ethernet, which is one of the more cost efficient networking technologies to implement.

Most effective application:
MPLS shines most when used to connect different business sites with each other, and to connect them all to a central data centre. Carrier Ethernet is most effective in interconnecting data centres.

MPLS is generally more scalable than Carrier Ethernet, primarily due to Ethernet’s reliability on MAC addresses, as opposed to MPLS that relies on IP addresses. MPLS is of particular benefit to networks that have multiple users at multiple connection speeds. Ethernet does not handle multiple users over the same line as well, and latency can be higher than with MPLS.

Ethernet WAN services are typically more widely available due to the spread of Ethernet exchanges. MPLS is often restricted to metropolitan areas.

Network integration
Ethernet offers simpler integration of Ethernet WANs with existing LANs, because LANs use Ethernet. This makes network management simpler than with MPLS, as an MPLS WAN requires that all network devices are compatible with both MPLS and Ethernet.


Stuart Hardy has been in the ICT industry since 1997, has been in the Telecommunications industry since 1997, intimately involved in product development, operations and product marketing roles. He has held Executive level positions in some of the largest Operators in South Africa and has founded and driven two successful start-up companies in the Mobile data and Wireless networking spaces. Today, Stuart is a Divisional Director for EOH in their Telecommunications sector.