The Big Ethernet Carrier Market

I haven’t talked about the big Ethernet carriers for a while. These are the giant companies that serve many of the largest businesses in the country and that also haul broadband between cities. The U.S. Carrier Ethernet Leaderboard tracks and ranks these carriers.

In the latest ranking from June 2022, the Leaderboard says that the largest six Ethernet carriers are Lumen, AT&T, Spectrum Enterprise, Verizon, Comcast Business, and Cox Business. These six carriers each have at least a 4% share of the U.S. Ethernet market. The next tier on the Leaderboard includes Altice USA, Cogent, Frontier, GTT, Windstream, and Zayo. These six carriers have a national market share between 1% and 4%.

The rankings are based on the number of billable Ethernet retail customer ports installed. In past years we used to track lit buildings, but billable ports reflect that some customers buy more than one major type of Ethernet connection. There are six categories of Ethernet service that are counted as ports, including:

  • Ethernet DIA. This is a relatively new service and connects customers directly to the Internet without passing through any intermediate carriers.
  • E-Access to IP/MPLS VPN. This is the most commonly sold big Ethernet product at 36% of the U.S. market and is more commonly called business-class virtual private network. MPLS VPNs are used to switch multiple kinds of broadband traffic across the same broadband connection.
  • Ethernet Private Lines. Private lines connect two locations with no switching in between. As an example, a bank might buy a private line between each bank branch in a city, and no carrier touches the traffic between branches.
  • Ethernet Virtual Private Lines. This is similar to dedicated private lines in that traffic is encrypted and not visible to carriers between the two end points.
  • Metro LAN. This uses Ethernet to connect multiple locations within a metropolitan network.
  • WAN VPLS. This extends Metro LAN service across the country or the world.

The next lower tier of large carriers includes companies that have less than a 1% share of the national Ethernet market. Some of the better-known names include ACD, AireSpring, Alaska Communications, Alta Fiber, American Telesis, Arelion, Armstrong Business Solutions, Astound Business, Breezeline, BT Global Services, Centracom, Consolidated Communications, Conterra, Crown Castle, Douglas Fast Net, DQE Communications, ExteNet Systems, Fatbeam, FiberLight, First Digital, FirstLight, Flo Networks, Fusion Connect, Global Cloud Xchange, Great Plains Communications, Hunter Communications, Intelsat, Logix Fiber Networks, LS Networks, MetTel, Midco, Momentum Telecom, NTT, Orange Business, Pilot Fiber, PS Lightwave, Ritter Communications, Segra, Shentel Business, Silver Star Telecom, Sparklight Business, Syringa, T-Mobile, Tata, TDS Telecom, TPx, Unite Private Networks, Uniti, US Signal, WOW!Business, Ziply Fiber and other companies selling retail Ethernet services in the U.S. market.

The names at the top of the Leaderboard are familiar since those are also most of the largest retail ISPs in the country.

What many people don’t realize is that most cities of any size include connections from some of these carriers. For example, most national chain stores, hotels, or other large national businesses have a single carrier that coordinates and connects all of its locations. This allows big businesses to efficiently and reliably connect locations to headquarters or the cloud. Anybody that has crawled through the FCC’s 477 data will see a number of these carriers listed as fiber providers in most cities.

In most cases, these carriers use somebody else’s fiber to connect to customers. Some large carriers like AT&T, Lumen, or Comcast will build fiber to business districts and then sell wholesale arrangements to carriers that need to reach specific businesses. It’s not unusual for a local outlet of a national business to not even know who the underlying carrier is – that’s something arranged by a corporate office and done behind the scenes. But any ISP salespeople knocking on the doors on chains is familiar with the story that the ISP connections are arranged by corporate.

I know a few fiber overbuilders who have cracked a hair into this market and have convinced some of the carriers on the list to buy from them and not one of the national carriers. It’s not easy to get onto the radar of these carriers, but it can be done with persistence.

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