Cisco Balks at Big Wireless Buys
Following Cisco Systems Inc.'s acquisitions of enterprise Wi-Fi company Meraki Networks Inc. and Wi-Fi traffic analytics startup ThinkSmart Technologies -- not to mention the Service Provider IT (SPIT) specialists BroadHop Inc., Cariden Technologies Inc. and Cloupia Inc. -- it's only natural to wonder if the vendor giant will buy again to bolster its small-cell strategy.
But if Cisco's buying spree continues in 2013, any wireless deals would probably be small.
In a recent interview with Light Reading Mobile, Murali Nemani, senior director of service provider marketing at Cisco, didn't say whether Cisco was still shopping around for other small-cell specialists, but he said that future deals, if any, "will fill gaps in our portfolio, rather than a big play."
Nemani also made it clear that the company's small-cell ambitions don't involve getting big in the radio access network (RAN) and selling macro-sized base stations. Cisco has viewed the macro base station market as "a slow-growing, highly commoditized space we knew we couldn't create value on," he said.
And the vendor doesn't appear to have the appetite for a major wireless acquisition anyway.
"We typically don't like to do these big acquisitions," he said. "We get indigestion."
Small Cells, Big Plans
At the heart of Cisco's small-cell strategy is its intent to integrate unlicensed Wi-Fi access points with licensed cellular 3G or 4G networks. But that doesn't mean just putting two different kinds of radios together in an access point, according to Nemani.
The bigger picture involves enabling carriers to manage their Wi-Fi and cellular small-cell networks as one mobile network. And that's where the ASR 5000 mobile multimedia core router plays a role.
In Cisco's view, combining licensed and unlicensed networks will require several network management capabilities. One is a provisioning system, like its Prime management platform that it has used for residential femtocell rollouts. This platform is also being used for provisioning Wi-Fi small-cell networks. Another component is automated radio frequency (RF) planning so that, for example, 50 small cells operating in one neighborhood don't interfere with any existing macro base stations.
And the last capability needed is the intelligence to make handover decisions when users move between Wi-Fi and 4G networks. But as Nemani admits, that's "not so simple." Wi-Fi and cellular networks have different protocols for roaming, but groups like the Wireless Broadband Alliance and the GSM Association (GSMA) are attempting to find a common standard for both network types.
So, Cisco is taking all those ingredients and shaking up a small-cell cocktail that it hopes will pack more of a punch than what its mobile infrastructure rivals can serve up, such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ericsson AB, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., or Nokia Siemens Networks.
"It's a disruptive offer… and something that legacy establishment may not be able to execute on," said Nemani.
Cisco is also developing an 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) small cell, as Light Reading Mobile reported in March 2012, but Nemani declined to share details about the product.
"We're not publicly talking about that," he said. "It's very much dear to our heart …when we come out, we're going to come out big."
— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Light Reading Mobile