In this post, we take a closer look at the second one: Optical Ethernet has replaced SONET for all new core fiber network projects, and is also routinely used for “last mile” connections, achieving a long-held goal in telecommunications: one technology for all parts of the network.
Ethernet was a brand name for the first LAN, developed at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center in Silicon Valley. The mouse and the graphical user interface used in Windows and Macs appear to have also been invented there. And people say Xerox never does anything original…
An almost-identical technology was subsequently codified in the 802 series of standards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Products conforming to the IEEE 802 standards ended up dominating the market, and Ethernet no longer exists. When people say “Ethernet” today, they are referring to IEEE 802 standards.
Ethernet moves frames of data between computers that are on the same physical circuit. A frame is a block of data, typically about 1500 bytes, prefaced by the address of the receiver, the address of the sender and control information, followed by an error check.
The addresses are Media Access Control (MAC) addresses, 48-bit numbers identifying the LAN chip in each computer. LAN frames are also called MAC frames.
In the beginning, many computers were connected together by tapping onto a coaxial copper-wire “bus” cable.
Today, one computer is connected with a LAN cable to one port on a LAN switch as illustrated in the diagram. The LAN switch moves frames internally from one port to another, and hence from one computer to another.
Ethernet was developed for communicating data packets between computers inside a building, in a bursty, as-needed manner.
Ethernet then escaped and took over the world of fiber connections between buildings, replacing the previous technology used for fiber backbones called SONET.
SONET carried 64 kb/s streams of bits called DS0 channels on fiber between buildings. It was designed to carry phone calls in these channels. It can also carry data packets on these channels. But using channels for communications is not efficient, since the bits in the channel are reserved whether there is anything to transmit or not, and the channels only go between fixed places.
The new-generation all-IP telecom network does not use channels. Everything is put in IP packets, which are created and transmitted only when there is information to be communicated, and routed one-by-one to different destinations. This is more efficient and much more flexible.
Packets are transmitted from the originating machine in a MAC frame on a physical circuit to a router, then to the next router in another city, to the next router, and finally delivered in a MAC frame on a physical circuit to the destination.
The connections between routers in different cities are LAN cables… but not the familiar blue copper-wire LAN patch cables used in-building. Inter-city LAN cables are made of glass fiber. A MAC frame is signaled from one end to the other by pointing a laser into the fiber and turning it on and off. Light on means “1” and light off means “0”. This is called Optical Ethernet, and allows much higher bit rates and much longer reach than copper wire LAN cables.
Today, Optical Ethernet is not used just for inter-city links, but also for the access circuit, the circuit from the customer to the network, sometimes called the “last mile”.
The use of Ethernet for in-building communications, access circuits and intercity backbones represents the achievement of a long-held goal in the telecommunications business: to save money by using the same technology in all parts of the network.
This is a concise description of a story that has many different facets. If you would like to learn more, for example, the relationship between Ethernet and IP, how packets and frames work together, the difference between a LAN switch and a router, why Ethernet is “Layer 2” and IP is “Layer 3”, about LAN cables and fiber optics, convergence and service integration, those topics and much more are covered in the following Teracom training:
Eight major developments and trends in telecom that you need to know about
Teracom’s training represents the core knowledge set required for the telecom business. We’ve been teaching people the fundamentals of telecom and networking since 1992, so there have been many changes to the core knowledge set, and updates to our training over the years!
For the new school year, we have updated our core training yet again, with some significant shifts. For example, Voice over IP is now part of the fundamentals, and channelized systems like T1 and SONET are now referred to as “legacy technologies” for the first time ever.
Here’s a summary of the recent developments and trends in telecommunications that triggered these updates:
1. All new phone systems are VoIP. SIP trunking services replace PBX / PRI trunks from LECs.
2. Optical Ethernet has replaced SONET for all new core fiber network projects, and is also routinely used for “last mile” connections, achieving a long-held goal in telecommunications: one technology for all parts of the network.
3. MPLS has replaced ATM for traffic management on carrier networks, achieving another long-held goal: convergence and service integration… one network service, one access circuit, one bill for all telecom services.
4. 4G LTE has achieved the goal of a worldwide standard for mobile wireless.
5. “Data” on cellular plans means Internet access. It can be used for phone calls, video on demand, web surfing, real-time traffic on maps or any other application. Cellular data plans can be replaced with WiFi, which is often free.
6. Broadband carriers, also known as Cable TV companies, have evolved into telecom companies, gaining a majority share of residential Internet access in the USA, and providing services to business using both cable modems and fiber.
7. Telephone companies provide Cable TV service using Fiber to the Neighborhood and VDSL over loops in brownfields, and often Fiber to the Premise in greenfields.
8. In the future, the Internet and the telephone network will be the same thing. Basic telephone service will be “IP dial tone”: the ability to send an IP packet to any other point on the network. There will be no such thing as “long distance”.
To explore and understand these developments in more detail, while getting a firm grounding in the fundamentals and installed base…
“I really appreciated the telecommunications training course provided by Teracom Training Institute. I did learn a lot and understand things better, so that I am now able to tie everything together to understand all the facets of Telecommunications. Many of the acronyms, technologies, network designs and services – I would have no idea what they meant if it were not for this class. Thanks, I really enjoyed it.”
— Natasha White, Comcast, West Chester PA
The term “port” crops up in IP networking, particularly in the context of rules in routers and software firewalls. One hears about “opening a port on a firewall” and “TCP ports” and “UDP ports”.
So just what is a “port”, exactly?
Like about 40% of the words in English after the Norman invasion of southern England following the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the English word “port” is French. Une porte is a door.
Of course, the French got it from Latin: porta (gate, door). The Latin word portus (port, harbor, and earlier, entrance, passage) and the Greek word poros (journey, passage, way) are obviously related.
In the computer hardware business, a port is a doorway into the machine: a jack, where a cable can be connected. In days past, there were serial ports and parallel ports on PCs. Today, we have USB ports and LAN ports. Technicians talk about connecting customers to ports on access equipment, for example, equipment with banks of modems.
In the computer software business, a port can be thought of as a doorway into the software running on the machine, a passageway to a specific computer program running on the computer.
Why is this necessary? Since there can be many computer programs (a.k.a. applications, apps) running on the same computer at the same time, when trying to communicate to a particular program, we require a mechanism to identify it, a way of telling the host computer to which program to relay our communications.
For example, we all know that it’s possible to have multiple applications using the Internet connection on a computer at the same time. Think of an Outlook email program and a Chrome browser program running at the same time on a PC connected to the Internet.
When data arrives at this computer, how does the computer know whether this data is for the email program or for the browser program? And how does it convey the data to the correct program?
The answer: every program is assigned a number called a port number. Your browser is assigned port 80, for example.
Here’s how it works: the sending program creates a message and tags it with the port number identifying the program it wishes to communicate with on the destination computer. This is put in a packet that is tagged with the network address (IP address) of the destination host computer and transmitted. When the packet arrives at the destination computer identified by the IP address, this receiving computer looks at the destination port number and parks the message in a memory space associated with that port number. The program on the destination computer assigned that port number is constantly checking that memory space to see if there is anything new waiting for it.
The result is the ability for a computer program running on one computer to communicate with a specific computer program on another computer.
Visiting our warehouse service a couple of weeks ago, I was struck by the analogy possible between the idea of computer ports and a multi-tenant warehouse, so whipped out my Android smartphone and took a picture with the totally cool panoramic feature.
The warehouse is analogous to the host computer. It has a single street address. It handles goods for multiple users. Users have space allocated inside the warehouse. The warehouse has (on this side) six ports, also called loading docks. Each port has a number. A user can be assigned a port, either temporarily or permanently.
To communicate goods to that user, they’re carried in a shipping container (IP packet) on a truck (Ethernet frame) over a road (LAN cable) to the warehouse at its street address (IP address). To get the contents of the shipping container delivered to the correct user, the truck is backed up to the appropriate loading dock (port) identified by its door number (port number) and the contents of the container are unloaded to the space behind that port.
In computer communications today, the port number is 16 bits long, and the source and destination port number are populated at the beginning of the transport layer header, Layer 4 of the OSI model. The world’s most popular standard protocols for implementing the transport layer are the TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) and UDP (User Datagram Protocol).
Hence, one hears of “TCP ports” and “UDP ports”, particularly when configuring rules for packet forwarding on a router or firewall. When one “blocks” a port, that means that communication to a particular computer program is denied. When one “opens” a port, communication to that computer program is being allowed.
Standard practice is to allow communications only to specifically-identified ports and deny all other communications.
The port number of the application and the IP address of the host computer concatenated together is called a socket in UNIX and IP and is called a transport service in the OSI model. The result is the ability to identify the specific source computer program on one computer and the specific desired destination computer program on a different computer.
The Internet connection at your office dies. Lights on your modem are flashing in a strange pattern. You call the ISP, and they quickly diagnose that the modem power supply has failed, and they will overnight you a replacement. Presumably you are not the first person to have this problem with that modem.
So how do you continue to operate while you are waiting for the replacement power supply? It’s hard to run your business without e-mail and ordering and administration systems, which are all accessed via the Internet.
A large business will be a station on a Metropolitan Area Network, which is a ring, meaning two connections to the Internet for that business and automatic reconfiguration in the case of one failing. But this is expensive… the second connection is not free.
Small and medium businesses usually have a single DSL or cable modem connection to the Internet. When that fails, connectivity to email, ordering and administration servers is impossible, and many businesses these days would be “dead in the water” until the ISP fixes the problem with their hardware.
Unless you have an Android smartphone, a good “data” plan and a laptop with WiFi running Windows.
The scenario described happened at our office last week. Since many of our customers might find themselves in a similar situation – even at home – I thought I’d share the quick and painless solution I came up with. Even if you’re not likely to need this solution, understanding how it works will no doubt sharpen your understanding of the devices involved and their functions.
In this tutorial, I will use the technology in our office: 16 Mb/s DSL, Android smartphone and Windows laptop. The solution is equally applicable to an Internet connection using a cable modem or if you are one of the lucky few, an Internet connection via fiber.
For the smartphone and laptop, there may be equivalent functions on Apple products, but as I am allergic to Apples, we don’t have any in the office. I’m posting this tutorial on our Facebook page, our Google+ page, or our blog; I invite someone better able to tolerate Apple products to leave a comment whether and how the iPhone and MacBook can perform the required functions.
Figure 1 illustrates the normal network setup in our office, a typical configuration for networking at a small or medium business. On the left is the access circuit to the Internet Service Provider (ISP), terminating on a modem in our office.
The modem is contained in a box that also includes a computer and an Ethernet switch. This box is more properly called the Customer Edge (CE).
The computer in the CE runs many different computer programs performing various functions: Stateful Packet Inspection firewall, DHCP server offering private IP addresses to the computers in-building, DHCP client obtaining a public IP address from the ISP, a Network Address Translation function between the two, routing, port forwarding and more.
In-building is a collection of desktop computers, servers and network printers. These are connected with Category 5e LAN cables to Gigabit Ethernet LAN switches, one of which is also connected to the CE.
When a desktop computer is restarted, its DHCP client obtains a private IP address and Domain Name Server (DNS) address from the DHCP server in the CE. The private address of the CE is configured as the “default gateway” for the desktop by Windows.
When a desktop computer wants to communicate with a server over the Internet, it looks up the server’s numeric IP address via the DNS, then creates a packet from the desktop to the Internet server and transmits it to its default gateway, the CE.
The NAT function in the CE changes the addresses on the packet to be from the CE to the Internet server and forwards the packet to the ISP via the modem and access circuit. The response from the Internet server is relayed to the CE, where the NAT changes the destination address on the return packet to be the desktop’s private address and relays it to the desktop.
The solution for restoring Internet access after the CE died is illustrated below.
An Android smartphone and a laptop running Windows were used to restore connectivity to the Internet without making any changes to the desktops, servers or network printers.
First, I took my Samsung/Google Nexus smartphone running Android out of my pocket and plugged in the charger.
Then on its menu under Settings > more > Tethering & portable hotspot > Set up Wi-Fi hotspot, I entered a Network SSID (“TERACOM”) and a password, clicked Save, then clicked Portable Wi-Fi hotspot to turn it on.
The smartphone is now acting as a wireless LAN Access Point, just like any other WiFi AP at Starbucks, in the airport or in your home.
At this point, the smartphone is the CE device, performing all of the same functions that the DSL CE device had been before it died: firewall, DHCP client to get a public IP address from the ISP (now via cellular), DHCP server to assign private IP addresses to any clients that wanted to connect (now via WiFi), NAT to translate between the two and router to forward packets.
Just as the DSL CE equipment “bridged” or connected the DSL modem on the ISP side to the Ethernet LAN in-building, allowing all the devices on the LAN to send and receive packets to/from the Internet via DSL, the smartphone “bridges” or connects the cellular modem on the ISP side to the WiFi wireless Ethernet LAN in-building, allowing all the devices on the wireless LAN to send and receive packets to/from the Internet via cellular radio.
The remaining problem was that none of the desktops or servers had wireless LAN cards in them, so they could not connect to the smartphone AP and hence the smartphone’s cellular Internet connection.
What was needed was a device to “bridge” or connect the wired LAN to the wireless LAN in-building. By definition, this device would need two LAN interfaces: a physical Ethernet jack to plug into the wired LAN, plus a wireless LAN capability.
Looking around the office, I spotted two devices that fit this description. One of them was my laptop, with both a LAN jack and wireless LAN.
I fired up the laptop, plugged it into an Ethernet switch with a LAN cable, and in the Network and Sharing Center, clicked Change Adapter Settings to get to the Network Connections screen that showed the two LAN interfaces.
I enabled both the wired and wireless LAN interfaces. Then right-clicking the Wireless Network Connection icon, selected the TERACOM wireless network and entered the password.
Once that was successfully connected, I selected the two adapters in the Network Connections screen, right-clicked and chose “Bridge Connections”. A message saying “Please wait while Windows bridges the connections” appeared, then an icon called “Network Bridge” appeared, and after a few seconds, “TERACOM” appeared as well.
My laptop was now acting as an Ethernet switch, connecting the wired LAN to the smartphone’s wireless LAN.
Each of the desktops, servers and network printers in the office had to be rebooted so they would run their DHCP client again, obtaining a private IP address and DNS address from the smartphone AP, and be configured so the smartphone was the “default gateway” in Windows.
After rebooting my desktop computer, it had Internet access over the wired LAN, through the wired Ethernet switch to my laptop, to the smartphone via WiFi then to the ISP over cellular.
After rebooting the other desktops and servers, all had Internet access again, with no changes to the configuration of the desktops or servers.
This took about 20 minutes to get up and running, and we were back in business. Running a bandwidth test on speedtest.net, I found we had exactly 5 Mb/s connection to the Internet via cellular.
Obviously my cellular service provider limited the connection to 5 Mb/s in software – but who’s complaining? 5 Mb/s is more than three times as fast as a T1, which cost $20,000 per month when I first started in this business 20 years ago.
I hope you found this tutorial useful, either as a template for your own emergency backup Internet connection, or simply as a way of better understanding the devices, their functions and relationships.– EC
Note 1: You must verify your billing plan for “data” on your cellular contract before doing this. I have 6 GB included, which means basically unlimited, and that includes the WiFi hotspot traffic. Make sure you have something similar, to avoid receiving a bill for $10,000 for casual “data” usage.
Note 2: As always, this tutorial is provided as general background information only. We do not guarantee it will work for you. Each situation is unique and requires professional advice to identify and resolve issues including but not limited to performance and security. This tutorial is not professional advice. But I hope you have found it valuable.
Note 3: I might have been able to implement this without the laptop. If you’d like to know that, or what was the other device I could have used to bridge the wired and wireless LAN in-building, or suggest how this could be done with Apple products, please leave a comment.
The tutorial is part of the text and one graphic from Lesson 11 “TCP/IP over MPLS”. The Online Course when released at the end of March will have extensive animations following along with a voiceover of the text. Enjoy!
In this course, we cover wireless, concentrating mostly on mobile communications.
We’ll cover the principles of operation, jargon and buzzwords in the mobility business, the idea behind cellular radio systems, and explain the different spectrum-sharing technologies, including 1G analog FDMA, 2G TDMA/GSM vs. CDMA, 3G 1X vs. UMTS CDMA and 4G OFDMA.
We’ll conclude with a lesson on 802.11 wireless LANs (Wi-Fi) and a lesson on satellite communications.
This tutorial is part of the most recent update to Course 101, Chapter 6, October 2008.
After more than 20 years, it appears that an almost universally-accepted standard for mobile radio may finally be implemented, bringing to an end the standards war between carriers that deployed TDMA/GSM for second generation and carriers that deployed CDMA for second generation. Those two factions continued the standards war for the third generation (UMTS and 1X respectively); but now carriers from both of the factions are supporting the GSM/UMTS faction’s Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) release 8, known as Universal Terrestrial Radio Access Network Long Term Evolution (LTE). Continue reading 4G Cellular, OFDM and LTE – the "GSM vs. CDMA" Standards War Ends!→
The term soft switch is not defined in a standard… meaning that marketing departments at different equipment and software manufacturers use the same term to describe different things.
A switch, in its simplest form, is a device that causes communications to happen from one point to one other particular point, often when there are multiple “other” points to choose from.
A traditional Central Office (CO) telephone switch might be called a “hard” switch, since it has physical line cards that terminate loops. The switching software running on the computer which is the CO switch directs traffic between a line card and a trunk or between two line cards during a phone call.
The term soft switch is used to mean a computer running switching software that does not have telephone line cards – the communications are instead directed to the correct destination by routers routing packets, a software function.
When someone demands “net neutrality”, they usually mean that the network must not discriminate between applications being carried in IP packets; that identical transmission characteristics (throughput, delay, number of errors, etc.) are to be provided for all packets regardless of what is being carried in them. They claim (correctly) that this is not the case at present, that the network service provider is “throttling” certain applications, “slowing down” or “shaping” traffic (the correct term is “policing”) and that this, in their opinion, must stop.
This video tutorial explains Service Level Agreements, traffic profiles, transmission characteristics, and how Differentiated Services (Diff-Serv) is implemented to be able to provide different transmission characteristics for different kinds of traffic – the EXACT OPPOSITE of net neutrality.