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Subscriber Management VLAN Architecture Overview

The subscriber management logical network architecture is as important as the physical network architecture. You configure the logical portion of the subscriber management network using virtual local area networks (VLANs).

Customer VLANs

Customer VLANs (C-VLANs) provide one-to-one (1:1) subscriber-to-service connectivity: One VLAN carries all traffic to each subscriber on the network. Having a single VLAN per subscriber simplifies operations by providing a 1:1 mapping of technology (VLANs) to subscribers. You can also understand what applications any subscriber is using at any given time. Because you use only one VLAN to carry traffic to each subscriber, this approach is not affected when adding new services. However, using a pure C-VLAN model consumes more bandwidth because a single television channel being viewed by multiple subscribers is carried across the network several times—once on each C-VLAN. This approach requires a more scalable, robust edge router that can support several thousand VLANs.

Configurations that use C-VLANs uniquely identify subscribers by using the VLAN ID and stacked VLAN (S-VLAN) ID. Subscriber packets received from the access node that are either single-tagged with a VLAN ID or double-tagged with both an S-VLAN ID and a VLAN ID are examples of C-VLAN configurations because they provide a one-to-one correspondence between an individual subscriber and the VLAN encapsulation.

In the C-VLAN architecture, each customer premises equipment (CPE) or subscriber network has its own dedicated Layer 2 path to the router. Each subscriber network is separated by a customer VLAN (C-VLAN) that is dedicated to a particular customer. The services for each customer are transmitted from the router to the access node by means of that customer’s C-VLAN.

The ability to uniquely identify subscribers by means of VLAN encapsulation facilitates delivery of services such as authentication, authorization, and accounting (AAA); class of service (CoS); and filters (policers) to subscribers in a C-VLAN configuration.

We recommend using C-VLANs for data and voice traffic to simplify configuration and management when expanding services. However, some MSANs are limited to the number of VLANs they can support, limiting the ability to use C-VLANs.

Service VLANs

Service VLANs (S-VLANs) provide many-to-one (N:1) subscriber-to-service connectivity: The service VLAN carries a service (for example, data, video, or voice) to all subscribers instead of having different services share a VLAN. Adding a new service requires adding a new VLAN and allocating bandwidth to the new service. The service VLAN model enables different groups that are using the broadband network (for example, external application providers) to manage a service. One limitation of service VLANs is the absence of any logical isolation between user sessions at the VLAN level. This lack of isolation requires that the multiservice access node (MSAN) and broadband network gateway (BNG) provide the necessary security filtering.

Service VLANs enable service providers to route different services to different routers to functionally separate network services and reduce network complexity.

Typically, you would use S-VLANs for video and IPTV traffic.

Hybrid VLANs

Hybrid C-VLAN—The hybrid VLAN combines the best of both previous VLANs by using one VLAN per subscriber to carry unicast traffic and one shared multicast VLAN (M-VLAN) for carrying broadcast (multicast) television traffic. You can use both the pure and hybrid C-VLAN models in different portions of the network, depending upon available bandwidth and MSAN capabilities.


The term C-VLAN, when used casually, often refers to a hybrid C-VLAN implementation.

Broadband Subscriber Management VLANs Across an MSAN

You configure VLANs to operate between the MSAN and the edge router (broadband services router or video services router). However, the MSAN might modify VLAN identifiers before forwarding information to the subscriber in the following ways:


Not all MSANs support these options.

  • The VLAN identifiers can be carried within the ATM VCs or they can be removed. The value of keeping the VLAN header is that it carries the IEEE 802.1p Ethernet priority bits. These priority bits can be added to upstream traffic by the residential gateway, allowing the DSLAM to easily identify and prioritize more important traffic (for example, control and VoIP traffic). Typically, a VLAN identifier of zero (0) is used for this purpose.

  • In a C-VLAN model, the MSAN might modify the VLAN identifier so that the same VLAN is sent to each subscriber. This enables the use of the same digital subscriber line (DSL) modem and residential gateway configuration for all subscribers without the need to define a different VLAN for each device.


Most MSANs can support the service VLAN model.

Customer VLANs and Ethernet Aggregation

The 12-bit VLAN identifier (VLAN ID) can support up to 4095 subscribers. When using an aggregation switch with a C-VLAN topology, and fewer than 4095 subscribers are connected to a single edge router port, the aggregation switch can transparently pass all VLANs. However, if the VLAN can exceed 4095 subscribers per broadband services router port, you must use VLAN stacking (IEEE 802.1ad, also known as Q-in-Q). VLAN stacking includes two VLAN tags—an outer tag to identify the destination MSAN and an inner tag to identify the subscriber. For downstream traffic (that is, from the broadband services router or Ethernet switch to the MSAN), the outer tag determines which port to forward traffic. The forwarding device then uses the VLAN pop function on this tag before forwarding the traffic with a single tag. The reverse process occurs for upstream traffic.

VLAN stacking is not necessary for S-VLANs or M-VLANs. However, for the hybrid (C-VLAN and M-VLAN) model, the Ethernet switch or services router must be able to pop or push tags onto C-VLAN traffic while not modifying M-VLAN packets.