Charter Business is now able to connect the dots for business customers across its entire footprint with the launch of its long-haul Ethernet service.

Charter Business product management director Scott Fairchild said Charter has been using Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) on its national backbone for some time, but over the past few years, it embarked on adding MPLS to its metro networks. Charter Business primarily uses Cisco gear in its core network, but MPLS-based routing was key to its new optical Ethernet service.

The long-haul service extends the reach of Charter Business' optical Ethernet service from one metro area to another. The service creates a Wide Area Network (WAN) between small- to medium-size businesses via Layer 2 or Layer 3.

Charter Business also launched a Layer 3 VPN service for commercial customers that prefer the flexibility and scalability of a Layer 3 private network.

"With the long-haul launch, we can now connect our metro areas together easily for a customer that needs to get from one Charter area to another," Fairchild said. "With the Layer 3 VPN, that adds another option for IT managers if the applications they're running are better suited for Layer 3.

"I think we're among the first cable operators that are actually routing customer traffic across our backbone, where we're tying disparate sites together with MPLS. We've had MPLS enabled on our national backbone, but over the last couple of years, we've been working on moving our metro networks to an MPLS core, and that's what has really enabled us to launch both capabilities, because now we can tie in the metro network to the backbone, and we can easily offer the Layer 3 VPN service."

Fairchild said that MPLS has given Charter Business more flexibility as opposed to the past, when disparate networks that used Layer 2 routing required manual setup for routes between locations.

"We're moving to an MPLS-enabled core, where the routes are determined dynamically," he said.

Charter's regional network has more than 55,000 fiber route miles serving thousands of fiber-lit locations, and thousands more "near-net" locations, throughout its 25-state footprint. Charter leases wavelengths from other providers for its national backbone. Charter's national backbone currently transports more than 300 Gbps of traffic.

Fairchild said two of the first customers for the long-haul service were hospital networks with locations in St. Louis and Wisconsin.

"They were connecting the two together by leasing circuits from somebody else, but we were their metro Ethernet provider in both regions," he said. "What we're able to do now is basically provide connectivity for the whole thing. We're tying the two networks together across our national backbone so they only have one provider to go to.

"In terms of verticals, definitely medium to large businesses are really the sweet spot, and then specific verticals would be hospitals and financial institutions. We're very strong in healthcare and education, and I think we're getting stronger in financial."

Fairchild said Charter Business has also seen early interest from Tier 2 and Tier 3 service providers in Charter's footprint that want to stitch their regional networks together across its backbone.

Charter Business first started trialing the service in October of last year. Between October and March, Fairchild said there were trials at a number of different sites prior to a soft launch in mid-May.

In March, Charter Business announced new carrier interconnect capabilities in five locations across the nation. Charter has interconnect services at two locations in Los Angeles, as well as in Atlanta, its hometown of St. Louis and Worchester, Mass.

"Primarily for us this year, our focus is on using those interconnects so that people can buy access onto our footprint," Fairchild said. "Now we have connectivity that will make it a lot easier to buy access, whether it's from an MSO, which is preferable, ILEC or CLEC, on other people's footprint, as well.

"This kind of thing enables us to connect the dots within our footprint, but when we get out of our footprint, we certainly want the capability to be the provider of record for customers."

While most of the focus on Charter over the past few years has been on its financial difficulties, the nation's fourth-largest cable operator has offered Ethernet services for more than 10 years.

"Early on, Charter was one of the most aggressive MSOs for fiber-based services," Fairchild said. "We've been in this business for a long time, and we have some very happy long-term customers."