Metro Ethernet vs. MPLS: what’s the difference? - Neos Networks

Metro Ethernet vs. MPLS: what’s the difference?

Metro Ethernet and MPLS are both data transport technologies for telecommunications networks, but they’re fundamentally different. Learn how they differ and the benefits and use cases of each.

What’s Metro Ethernet

Metro Ethernet is a network that uses ethernet standards to interconnect sites across an urban area or region in a metropolitan area network (MAN).

Metro Ethernet works primarily in layer 2 of the OSI Model – the data link layer. It provides the transport path, or road, for data to travel along.

The seven layers of the OSI Model

# Layer Function
7 Application layer Enables humans or software to interact with the network through applications like file sharing, email clients and databases
6 Presentation layer Formats, encrypts and decrypts data for the application layer
5 Session layer Starts, maintains and ends connections between applications
4 Transport layer Transfers data across the network, for example, using TCP or UDP transport protocols
3 Network layer Enables communication between multiple networks and determines the data’s path, for example, applying IP addresses
2 Data link layer Manages connections between physically connected nodes on a network
1 Physical layer Transmits raw data bits over physical media like cables or wireless connections


What’s MPLS?

MPLS (Multiprotocol Label Switching) is a routing technology that directs data packets from one node to another in a network.

Unlike Metro Ethernet, MPLS operates between layer 2 (the data link layer) and layer 3 (the network layer) of the OSI Model, also known as layer 2.5. It’s a technology that directs the data to the correct destination.

What’s the difference between Metro Ethernet and MPLS?

In simplified terms, the fundamental difference between Metro Ethernet and MPLS is their function:

  • Metro Ethernet is a network that transports data.
  • MPLS is a label-switching technology that directs traffic on a network.

MPLS is typically used to create wide area networks (WANs) over long distances but may also be deployed as a routing protocol in Metro Ethernet networks. For example, many Metro Ethernet networks use MPLS to connect their backbone networks.

Here are the differences between Metro Ethernet and MPLS in more detail.


Metro Ethernet is a network used primarily to interconnect an organisation’s sites, or local-area networks (LANs), into a metropolitan area network (MAN). The network can also connect an organisation’s sites to the internet and cloud services, providing IPTV, video conferencing and other collaboration tools.

MPLS is a switching technology that directs and speeds up network traffic flow. It’s often deployed in enterprise wide-area networks (WANs) or service provider environments, as well as MANs.


Metro Ethernet primarily operates at layer 2 (the data link layer) using various control protocols. Typically, traffic is switched based on MAC (Media Access Control) addresses rather than IP (internet protocol) addresses, as in layer 3 (the network layer).

By contrast, MPLS operates in layer 2.5 (between the data link and network layers). It gives each data packet a label with details about its final destination. The label provides a short path to the target IP address rather than a long network address, resulting in higher traffic speeds and lower latency.


Metro Ethernet networks are typically point-to-point (P2P) or point-to-multipoint (P2MP), although they can also be any-to-any (mesh). Find out more about types of Metro Ethernet services.

MPLS is just a routing technology, so it can be deployed in various network topologies, including P2P, P2MP or mesh.


Both Metro Ethernet and MPLS are highly scalable. Typically, Metro Ethernet is used over limited distances across a region and can be scaled up to speeds of 10Gbps.

Since MPLS is not dependent on a particular transport protocol, MPLS-based networks aren’t limited by distance. They can be used for regional, national or global networks with speeds from 10Mbps to 10Gbps.

Quality of Service (QoS)

Both Metro Ethernet and MPLS support Quality of Service (QoS), allowing you to prioritise network traffic for critical applications.

However, MPLS, with its label-based technology and native support for traffic engineering, provides flexible options to meet the needs of new applications.


One common network architecture that combines Ethernet and MPLS is Virtual Private LAN service (VPLS). VPLS is a type of Ethernet-based virtual private network (VPN) that links multiple sites in a single domain through an IP or MPLS network.

VPLS mimics the functionality of a local area network (LAN) by configuring virtual LANs. In this way, your devices are connected as if they were on the same local network, whatever the geographical distance between your sites.

VPLS network

A VPLS network, which combines ethernet and MPLS


Metro Ethernet vs. MPLS: which is right for your business?

To sum up, a Metro Ethernet network may be a cost-effective solution if you’re looking for high-speed connections within a limited geographical area that’s flexible and easy to deploy using common ethernet standards.

By contrast, if you want to connect more complex, geographically dispersed sites over a wide area network (WAN) with enhanced QoS and traffic engineering, an MPLS-based network may work better.

Or you could combine the two with VPLS, securely connecting multiple sites over a WAN with the reliability and performance of a local area network.

Whatever your networking needs, we can help. At Neos Networks, we offer a range of business ethernet or MPLS-based network options, so get in touch.

We’ll be happy to design a cost-effective, high-speed, secure network solution to interlink your sites.

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