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Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions

Dan Jones
LR Mobile News Analysis
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor
3/5/2012
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Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) revealed that it will eventually round out its small-cell portfolio with the introduction of a Long Term Evolution (LTE)-capable base station in an interview with Light Reading Mobile at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona last week.

But for now, the equipment vendor is more focused on a hybrid approach to small cells that will see mobile data capacity supplemented by carrier-grade Wi-Fi networks and indoor cellular coverage boosted by 3G femtocells. (See Cisco: We're Doing Small Cells Too.)

Critical to Cisco's small-cell strategy are the Hotspot 2.0 upgrades and the Small Cell Gateway that the vendor unveiled in Barcelona last week. The Gateway is based on the ASR5000 Series Mobile Multimedia Core Router and sits in the carrier network to manage connections over small-cell and Wi-Fi connections. (See Cisco Works With AT&T Et Al on First Small Cell.)

Light Reading Mobile sat down for lunch last week with Murali Nemani, senior director of mobility solutions with worldwide service provider marketing at Cisco, who explained that -- 4G or not -- there simply wouldn't be enough bandwidth available to support voice and high-speed data over a licensed spectrum cellular connection.

"We think it is more suitable and sustainable to have Wi-Fi address the capacity needs," said Nemani. "Even if you have all the spectrum available you wanted … It is just not sustainable on its own."

Massive Video Growth
There are a couple of statistics that underlie why Cisco is going for a hybrid approach with small cells. The company expects that by 2015, 70 percent of all mobile traffic will be video. Meanwhile, "80 percent of all access to Internet traffic is going to be indoors," said Nemani.

These metrics favor Wi-Fi offload for data and cellular small cells for voice in home, enterprise and public spaces, according to Cisco. Nemani gives the example of the offload work that his company did with Verizon Wireless at the Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis this year as thousands of fans sent out photos and videos during the Super Bowl.

"It's not the download on smartphones in that situation, it's the upload," said Nemani. "What Verizon and Cisco did together there is basically integrated a carrier-grade Wi-Fi in the stadium."

3G/Wi-Fi Glue
Underpinning this hybrid approach is the Proxy Mobile IPv6 (PMIPv6) protocol used by Cisco across these systems. The protocol involves "carrying an IP address across networks," said Nemani. It allows the user to migrate between cellular and Wi-Fi connections while watching the same video but also maintain a connection while hoping between access points.

Portable Portfolio
Cisco's current small-cell portfolio includes a 3G residential femtocell. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has deployed so many of these devices, which it brands as a 3G MicroCell, that many believe that Cisco is now the biggest supplier of the indoor 3G base stations in the U.S. (See AT&T Claims to Be a Femtocell Big Spender.)

The femtocell will eventually be followed by an LTE small cell but Cisco is evidently not being rushed into delivering a 4G unit.

"Obviously, we're looking at demand," said Nemani. "It is on the horizon; it is something we’re evaluating with our customers."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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joset01
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joset01,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:40:43 PM
re: Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions


Cisco really didn't want to talk small cell competitors. "They validated our strategy," is all Murali Nemani would say about the Ericsson buy.


joset01
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joset01,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:40:42 PM
re: Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions


Typically European operators often seem to get wider LTE channels to play with WHEN they get them but regulators hardly seem to be rushing to open up 4G spectrum on the continent.


 


A transatlantic perspective.

Moonbase
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Moonbase,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:40:42 PM
re: Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions


Seems to be a repeat of the strategy followed in the run up to the dotcom boom. Then it was an explosion in internet connections driving demand, now its people consuming video that will drive the demand. What Cisco fail to explain, is how, in these hard pressed economic times, people will pay for this mobile data, or why they would want to consume it in their home on a small screen smartphone? Surely it would be better on an a tablet, PC or television, and use the exisiting wifi enabled broadband connection (that they've had for the last 10 years)? Seems Murali also needs to be told that they break the RF spectrum into cells so they can reuse the spectrum again and again.


Putting all of the above together I'd suggest a number of the Cisco points are just marketing muddle to help them win the business, and why not? Until LTE takes off wifi is a cost effective alternative to 3G, but that doesn't mean its a long term solution: just a window that Cisco can exploit in the short term. I suspect Ericsson's buy is a defensive move to counter the immediate 3G data shortfall and operator asks.


A European perspective.


 


 


 


 


 

kaps
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kaps,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:40:39 PM
re: Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions


WiFi is more than just a 4G placeholder. It will be absolutely necessary especially in high density places like convention centers, hotels and especially stadiums. And yes, people will want to use mobile devices for video there. So you will need WiFi because there simply isn't enough cellular bandwidth to support 70,000 potential users.


Cisco already has a dedicated group working on stadiums and it's not a small business... thousands of stadiums worldwide, each with big demands. And pretty much greenfield since stadiums never really had good infrastructure. So there's one business to shoot for.

kaps
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kaps,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:40:39 PM
re: Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions


WiFi is more than just a 4G placeholder. It will be absolutely necessary especially in high density places like convention centers, hotels and especially stadiums. And yes, people will want to use mobile devices for video there. So you will need WiFi because there simply isn't enough cellular bandwidth to support 70,000 potential users.


Cisco already has a dedicated group working on stadiums and it's not a small business... thousands of stadiums worldwide, each with big demands. And pretty much greenfield since stadiums never really had good infrastructure. So there's one business to shoot for.

DCITDave
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DCITDave,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:40:38 PM
re: Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions


After spending the day at a convention with no Wi-Fi access, I totally agree.


 


ph

Michelle Donegan
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Michelle Donegan,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:40:36 PM
re: Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions


As Ericsson moves in on Cisco's Wi-Fi turf with the BelAir acquisition, it's worth pondering how far Cisco will go into Ericsson's 3GPP territory.


Cisco's talking about plans for LTE small cells now, but where will it get the cellular know-how?

joset01
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50%
joset01,
User Rank: Light Beer
12/5/2012 | 5:40:34 PM
re: Cisco’s Big Small-Cell Ambitions


Well they already are a major supplier of 3G basestations thanks to the Microcell. Said they had no interest in becoming a macro RAN player.

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