Ethernet service providers are operating in a highly competitive market and have to evolve to keep up with changing customer demands.
And market share can change suddenly depending on acquisitions. CenturyLink, for example, dominated the Vertical Systems Group (VSG) year-end 2018 U.S. Carrier Ethernet Services Leaderboard, dethroning longtime champ AT&T, because of its acquisition of Level 3 Communications.
Erin Dunne, VSG’s director of research services, said the history of Ethernet and what defines a cutting-edge service provider has evolved over time.
“When you went back many years to the start of this industry or market, a cutting-edge service provider was being able to hook folks up in a pretty decent amount of time, with a good service-level agreement, decent pricing and all those kind of plumbing-oriented type of issues that the service providers needed to address,” she said. “That has changed. We’ve evolved now to a successful, cutting-edge Ethernet service provider [being] one that can address all of the basic requirements of Ethernet connectivity in a very large footprint.”
If they don’t have a very large footprint, they need to have very tight partnership agreements in order to bring connectivity to their customers, Dunne said.
“A cutting-edge service provider at this point now has moved up the stack with Ethernet services,” she said. “Now they are offering cloud connectivity, interoperability to their MPLS service if they have it, dynamic services and those types of services, which is really what we’re seeing now for cutting-edge providers. Let’s take the table stakes of connectivity and then add on to that so they can have a differentiated service.”
Kevin Rubin, president and CIO of Stratosphere Networks, said traditional coax and copper service providers have tried to deliver an “Ethernet handoff” to achieve faster speeds and compete with newer fiber technologies.
“Small to medium-size businesses still prefer Ethernet handoffs – whether they’re coax, copper, wireless or fiber – as traditional infrastructure costs can stay controlled,” he said. “Cutting-edge providers are adding additional services – such as monitoring, security, and SD-WAN – to draw more interest.”
Ethernet service itself is becoming a very commoditized product, said Patrick Oborn, Telarus‘ co-founder and vice president of partner experience.
“Where providers can really differentiate themselves from the others is the human wrapper and streamlined processes around the core product,” he said. “Creating systems that allow channel partners to easily see where Ethernet service is available, to quickly quote it, to get paperwork back in a timely manner, to communicate early and often with the clients [and the channel partner] during provisioning, and to provide excellent customer service on the back end — those all combine to create an excellent customer experience.”
There still are many Ethernet service providers that haven’t yet caught on and “have the attitude of ‘we built fiber here so everyone bow down, kiss the ring and sign up,’” Oborn said.
“There is enough competition now that companies have to do more than build their networks, they need to give a different compelling reason for channel partners to sell their product,” he said.
Clarify360 CEO Kelly Ratcliff said when selecting a provider for a client’s review, “we consider the geographic coverage of the internet service provider.”
“This is especially important for wide-area networks that have an international component,” he said. “Beyond reach, security is a growing consideration. Some security features are integrated into the network, while others may be add-on services. We look for internal security features from the provider as well. Additionally I’d add agreements with cloud providers. With the huge migration to public cloud services, our clients want to select a provider that is partnered with data centers in order to facilitate better cloud connectivity to the hyperscale cloud providers. Cloud connectivity has become a major consideration.”
Based on feedback from Dunne, Rubin, Oborn and Ratcliff, and recent news reports, we’ve compiled a list, in alphabetical order, of 20 Ethernet service providers that are making the most of the current competitive landscape and charting success.
Listed on VSG’s leaderboard “challenge” tier, Altice USA is the conglomeration of LightPath and Suddenlink, and LightPath has “always been a really good competitor in this market, being the fiber-based business arm of Optimum cable company and they’ve done very well,” Dunne said.
“They target interesting businesses, they started in that Long Island tri-state metro area and had very lucrative porters,” she said. “They targeted health care and financials, and have done a very good job with that.”
AT&T led the year-end 2018 U.S. Carrier Ethernet Leaderboard benchmark from 2005-2016 and now is ranked No. 2.
“There’s a reason why those top six are ranked there,” Dunne said. “They have sold a lot of ports and they have done it very well. And each one of them has a slightly different marketing style and deployment style, and they have done very well with that, selling either dedicated private lines or internet access service.”
One example of a successful, innovative Ethernet service provider is CentraCom, a small company based in Utah, Oborn said. Like most Ethernet providers, it’s a combination of several companies that have combined networks to achieve scale, and so it would be “easy to remain fragmented and hard to work with,” he said.
“CentraCom is different; they took the time and went through the expense of carefully documenting their combined network, fiber routes and fiber endpoints so that quoting them now takes just minutes,” he said. “They’ve loaded their entire inventory into the Telarus fiber mapping system, so all of our partners can see their assets, in real-time, right on their phones via the partner app. Once a price is requested from a partner, CentraCom’s main channel manager, Carl Cornista, can usually analyze the situation and get back with a price in a matter of minutes. What’s more, they can also call for same-day turn-ups if the schedule and situation permit, due to their flexibility and willingness to make the customer, and the agent, happy.”
CenturyLink is likely to maintain its dominance on the leaderboard benchmark, Dunne said.
“Unless you saw a significant merger, my prediction is that at midyear when we publish this market share again, we probably won’t see any shifts,” she said. “Without an acquisition, and it would have to happen super fast, that means one of those providers there would have to significantly increase their sales to overtake the next one.”
Listed on the leaderboard challenge tier, Cogent has always been a “very interesting” Ethernet provider, Dunne said. Since the beginning, they have had a “very defined strategy and they haven’t wavered from it,” she said.
“That strategy is, ‘We’ll sell on-net connectivity only,’” she said. “They publish their list of buildings and their pricing, and it’s very clear whether you can buy from them or you can’t. They’re not partnering, they’re not going out of region; that’s how they’ve done business. And they’ve done a very good job with that.”
Ratcliff cited Colt as an innovative, nimble player in Ethernet services. It has extended its international network into the United States, launching connectivity services up to 100G and a range of wholesale services.
“They are a global provider; they do sell ports in all of the regions of the world,” Dunne said. “They historically have been what I call a very large regional within Europe, but they have ventured out either via organic deployments or acquisitions into other regions.”
In December, Comcast announced a multimillion-dollar investment in the expansion of its fiber-based network in Washington, D.C., reaching more than 300 additional buildings and making the network more accessible to hundreds more businesses. It’s ranked No. 5 on the leaderboard.