Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE)

Synchronous Ethernet (SyncE)

In simple terms, Synchronous Ethernet extends the use of a PLL (Phase locked loop) clock to transmit data. At a very crude level, this, and only this, is the whole conceptual working of Synchronous Ethernet.

Synchronous Ethernet Functionality
Synchronous Ethernet Functionality (Picture Credit: and Andre's blog)

At the physical layer, two Ethernet peer nodes are already synchronized through a PLL for the RX (receiving) end. A PLL works by using a negative feedback loop to lock. Just the way we tune a guitar: listening to a tuning-fork, plucking the string, comparing the sound and correcting the tension. In Ethernet, the receiving node monitors the incoming bits, compares their alignment and timing with its own, corrects it local oscillator and locks to the source. But, the story ends there. The extracted time is just used to receive the correct data by aligning clock to the incoming bits’ rise and fall times. But, when the same extracted clock is used to send the data out, it is called Synchronous Ethernet.

This post is in continuation to the series of posts on Synchronization in Telecommunication Networks. Previous posts:

Sync-E Hardware Expectations

The Sync-E concept, although straight forward, puts a lot of requirements at the hardware level for proper functioning. Few of these are:

  • Jitter/Wander tolerance, filtering and transfer
  • Reference Monitoring
  • Detect disconnection and switchover or holdover
  • Holdover stability
  • Hitless reference switching
  • Continuous averaging of locked reference
  • Support for active and backup Timing Card and hitless switching
  • Support 25, 125, 156.25 MHz and translation etc

Adhering to the standards the Synchronous Ethernet can provide better than 4.6 ppm accuracy across the network versus the conventional Ethernet (where free-running clocks have accuracy of 100 ppm between peer nodes).

Sync-E Software Requirements

The hardware would work efficiently with the given requirements. The software’s function in Synchronous Ethernet is more of a helping hand to the Hardware to function effectively. The ESMC (Ethernet Sync Message Channel) protocol is designed to communicate the Quality Level (QL) of the clock to the participating nodes. The nodes can thus decide, based on this information, the best source to lock to, thus forming a clock tree and hierarchy. The Sync-E standard (ITU-T G.8264) provides the rules to decipher the SSM (Synchronization Status Message) QLs.



The software standard defines the following:

  • Message encapsulation and priority
  • Quality level encoding (to inter-operate with SONET/SDH clock quality levels)
  • Best reference selection and Fail-over Switching
  • Handling bad PDUs (protocol data units) and preventing SSM floods
  • Distinguishing & handling events and information
  • Ten pps & five second rule: Ethernet’s slow-protocol PDUs have an upper limit of 10-pps and Sync-E follows this. Also, if a system does not receive ESMC packets for 5 seconds, it should switch-over to a different clock source.


...that's not all folks!

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