Cisco Offering Small-Cell Connectivity for Mobile Operators

Cisco is debuting a "small-cell" solution that will allow mobile operators to facilitate connectivity across heterogeneous networks.

Cisco Systems used the 2012 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, to debut its Small Cell Gateway, which will allow operators to seamlessly manage user activity across heterogeneous access networks. The device, which is based on Cisco€™s ASR 5000 Series Mobile Multimedia Core Router, integrates 2G/3G/4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and femtocell networks with WiFi networks.

In a Feb. 28 statement, Cisco CEO John Chambers suggested that small cells would €œplay a critical role in delivering the next-generation mobile Internet.€ Cisco is apparently working with AT&T, Shaw Communications and other companies on the initiative. In theory, a broad network of access points upgraded to these next-generation hotspots will facilitate connectivity in mobile-heavy areas such as retailers and stadiums.

According to at least one analyst, the move could allow Cisco to compensate for some softness in its current strategy.

€œIn many camps, Cisco has been undervalued as a mobile infrastructure provider,€ Daryl Schoolar, principal analyst at Ovum, wrote in a Feb. 28 research note. €œMuch of this blame falls in two areas. First, Cisco does not sell a macro base station, the traditional cornerstone of the wireless infrastructure market. Secondly, Cisco has done a poor job marketing itself as a mobile infrastructure provider.€

Cisco€™s announcement, he added, is part of a more concerted effort to change its market perception and €œrecalibrate itself in the mobile infrastructure space.€ As a result, the company €œnow has a much richer story to tell with greater mobile operator focus on small cells and carrier WiFi solutions€¦ and other assets such as backhaul and mobile packet core.€

In a June 2011 report, Cisco predicted that global Internet traffic will reach 966 exabytes per year by 2015 (an Exabyte equals 1 quintillion bytes), with almost 15 billion network-connected devices such as smartphones, notebooks, tablets, appliances and smart machines. That will increase the pressure on any and all networks, and clearly lead to an increase in demand for infrastructure capable of handling multiple devices on both WiFi and some combination of 2G/3G/4G LTE. Hence Cisco€™s newest foray into small cells.

That need to provide infrastructure will also inevitably bring Cisco and other companies into increased competition. So far in 2012, Cisco made news when it decided to appeal the European Commission€™s approval of Microsoft€™s Skype acquisition, potentially kicking off a messy legal battle between tech behemoths. The company claimed it wanted interoperability between its products and those of the combined Microsoft-Skype entity, particularly with regard to the enterprise as well as small and midsized businesses (SMBs).

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