Despite having dived into all things mobile with gusto over the last couple of decades, Cisco has always shied away from getting into the large-scale radio access network (RAN) business proper.
Oh sure, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has everything from WiFi to core network systems to small cells to self-optimizing network technology. But it has never gone directly up against an Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE: ALU) or a Nokia Networks with macro basestations on a big ol' cell site.
"If I can ever figure out how to make money in radios, we'll be there," CEO John Chambers said at a roundtable at Mobile World Congress this year, noting that Kelly Ahuja, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's mobility business group, would be the one to figure it out.
Of course, with multiple trends towards smaller standalone radios, smarter distributed antennas, and IP across the network, the tidy stratification of macro cell sites, microcells, and small cells might also start to blur in the future too. Even with what we know of its architecture, Altiostar could certainly be a nudge in that direction. (See Altiostar Networks: Hola, LTE!)
So, I have to wonder, is an investment in Altiostar simply a smart investment in an ex-Starent team that Cisco already knows can do great things? Or will it become something more? It could be Cisco's Backdoor RAN, if you will.
Long-term plans I feel like Cisco has a similar investment in SDN app layer company Embrane, where there is a hint that it isn't just wise investing, but one-step in Cisco long-term plan to get into a different market segment. Maybe this is the new Cisco--doesn't buy companies, just invests with the option to buy and integrate later.
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