Introduction to Metro Ethernet

Ethernet was originally created for the LAN (Local Area Network) and not for the WAN (Wide Area Network), one of the reasons was the distance limitation that the first Ethernet standards offered.

The technology of Ethernet is used a lot in networking products, which makes it cheap to produce Ethernet products compared to other networking technology. This is one of the reasons why Ethernet is interesting to use outside of the LAN.

Metro Ethernet was first used outside of the LAN in metropolitan areas, called MANs (Metropolitan Area Network). We use fiber cabling because of the support for longer distances. Here are some of the standards that are suitable for Metro Ethernet:

Name Distance Bandwidth
100Base-LX10 10 Km 100 Mbps
1000Base-LX 5 Km 1 Gbps
1000Base-LX10 10 Km 1 Gbps
1000Base-ZX 100 Km 1 Gbps
10Gbase-LR 10 Km 10 Gbps
10Gbase-ER 40 Km 10 Gbps
40Gbase-LR4 10 Km 40 Gbps
100Gbase-ER4 40 Km 100 Gbps

As you can see in the table above, we can now cover distances of up to 100 Km (62 miles) and up to 100 Gbps.

Metro Ethernet was first only used in metropolitan areas, that’s why it’s called “Metro” Ethernet. Nowadays it’s also used for long-distance WAN links, often named Carrier Ethernet.

From the customer’s perspective, it’s like you are connected to a regular switch:

metro ethernet switches provider customer router

On the customer’s side, you get an Ethernet connection that you can connect to your router, switch or firewall. The provider will use switches on the edge of their network. The technology that is used inside the provider network is unknown to the customer. This could be something like MPLS. Ethernet frames that are sent by the customer router on one end, will be transparently transported to the other end.

Metro Ethernet Services and Topologies

There are several different Metro Ethernet services, each service has a different topology. The MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum) is a non-profit consortium that defines standards and services for Metro Ethernet. In the remaining of this lesson, we’ll discuss some of the most common services:

  • E-Line (Ethernet Line Service)
  • E-LAN (Ethernet LAN Service)
  • E-Tree (Ethernet Tree Service)

E-Line (Ethernet Line Service)

The Ethernet Line Service is the simplest Metro Ethernet service, it’s a point-to-point connection between two sites:

ethernet virtual circuit point to point

From the customer’s perspective, it’s like connecting two routers to each other with a crossover cable. It’s a layer two link so if you configure IP addresses, the routers will be in the same subnet. The point-to-point link is called an EVC (Ethernet Virtual Circuit).

If you have multiple sites, it is possible to use multiple E-lines on a single physical interface:

ethernet virtual circuit point to point multiple

When you use multiple E-lines on a single physical interface, we use 802.1Q trunking and a different VLAN for each E-line.

In my examples I’m showing routers as the customer devices but since we use Ethernet, you could also use switches.

Another common name for E-Line is VPWS (Virtual Private Wire Service).  This name is used when the provider uses MPLS on their network, transporting Ethernet over the MPLS network.

E-LAN (Ethernet LAN Service)

If you have a lot of sites and you want each site to be able to send frames directly to any other site, you might want to use an E-LAN. It’s a full-mesh topology that acts like a big switch:

ethernet lan service full mesh topology

The green line represents a single EVC that connects all four sites together, creating one E-LAN. All sites will be able to reach each other directly.

Another common name for E-LAN is VPLS (Virtual Private LAN Service).

E-Tree (Ethernet Tree Service)

The third topology is the E-Tree, this topology is useful if you have a central site and some other sites that mostly need to access resources at the central site:

metro ethernet tree service

This is a root with leaves topology where CE1 is the root of the tree and CE2/CE3 are leaves. It’s also known as a hub and spoke topology, partial mesh or point-to-multipoint. Leave-to-leave communication is still possible but it will have to go through the main site.


You have now learned the basics of Metro Ethernet:

  • Ethernet technology is interesting because it is used in so many products, making it cheaper compared to some other technologies.
  • Ethernet was first used outside of the LAN in MANs (Metropolitan Area Network), which is why we call it Metro Ethernet.
  • Ethernet is also used on WAN connections, which is why we also call it carrier Ethernet. The provider might use another technology on their network but the end-to-end protocol in use is Ethernet.
  • The MEF (Metro Ethernet Forum) defines standards and services for Metro Ethernet.
  • Some basic topologies:
    • E-Line: point-to-point connection between two sites.
    • E-Lan: full-mesh network between different sites.
    • E-Tree: root and leaves topology where the central site is the root of the tree and the other sites are the leaves.

Forum Replies

  1. I am kind of embarrassed. Where I work now most everything we do is Metro Ethernet and specifically E-Line(point to point) and E-Lan (Full Mesh)

    I somehow got confused as most of my knowledge before came from CCNP material and I got MPLS and MPLS VPN (Which is layer three) confused with these and in my head somehow was thinking ELAN and ELINE was a VPN… Ah well I have never been afraid to look foolish though its not my favorite thing I am ok with it as long as I keep learning :slight_smile:

    any good reference material I can look up perhaps specific to this topic. Renee

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  2. I have used this technology as customer, it’s very nice why it’s not included in CCIE routing and switching in depth, is this more CCIE ISP? I really would like to know more about this technology and why don’t replace MPLS?


  3. Hello Bhupesh

    In the topology that you have shared, there is a core Provider network that belongs to the ISP through which you are connecting your sites. Such a network is often based on MPLS. MPLS networks have Provider (P ) routers, which are devices internal to the core network, and Provider Edge (PE) routers, which are the devices via which the customers connect to the network.

    An ISP will have PEs in various areas, but a customer may not be physically close enough to reach that device directly. An intermediate network may be necessary to allow a custome

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