Interview with Eric Vallone, Small Cell Technology Group, Cisco

Cisco LogoCisco has invested heavily in the Small Cell Industry and takes a different approach from others, bringing an extensive distribution channel of Cisco Partners already familiar with Enterprise Wi-Fi and networking. We interviewed Eric Vallone from their Small Cell Technology Group, to understand better how they view the market and how their approach ties in (or potentially competes) with their Wi-Fi solutions. He highlights the comparatively low cost of adding in-building cellular, points to an opportunity for operators to capture in-building wireless outsourcing deals and comments on the longer term potential of LTE.

What's your understanding of Small Cell market demand within the Enterprise?

The Enterprise sector has been starved of affordable solutions for cellular service. In all but the largest buildings, operators simply can't justify the cost of DAS systems and other legacy approaches. Small cells turn the market upside down, bringing a cost-effective and efficient alternative approach to solve the problem.

Until now, we've seen residential small cells have mostly been used as a measure of last resort, to prevent churn for those with poor coverage. Instead, we want to highlight their tremendous revenue generating opportunities. This doesn't just come from adding good connectivity in-building, although that's a primary feature. We've also been demonstrating this to operators around the world, giving examples of additional features such as location services, analytics, customer loyalty etc. which further enhance the business case.

The Small Cell Forum has a good business case document that provides clear justification with many use cases. Once you look more specifically at each vertical segment, you can see the importance of mission critical wireless connectivity further increases the value.

The incremental cost of adding 3G to our Wi-Fi access points can be as little as 20%, which makes this very easy to justify and radically different to the price point for legacy approaches.

What is delaying enterprise small cell deployments?

Small Cell deployments are at the precipice of the adoption chasm with no viable bridge to cross it, up until now. Enterprises around the world are often challenged to gain access to affordable mobile services in their own buildings. This problem is becoming more acute with the emergence of business critical apps and the increasing move towards BYOD driving today's businesses to become reliant on mobile devices. The challenge lies in enabling in-building Enterprise small cell 3G/LTE services at a manageable cost and scale, and in seamlessly integrating these small cells into Enterprise networks.

How does your Enterprise Small Cell story fit with your Wi-Fi portfolio?

Cisco is focused on offering solutions that meet the key challenges our customers are facing. We uniquely combine a strong enterprise Wi-Fi solution with a comprehensive enterprise Small Cell portfolio.

Cisco has created an end-to-end solution that pairs Cisco's products, technology and expertise along with several strategic acquisitions, including Intucell and Ubiquisys. This best in-class licensed radio solution complements our in-house Service Provider Wi-Fi solution. The portfolio includes:

  • A range of 3G and LTE capable small cells, including standalone residential and enterprise models. The Aironet 3600 Wi-Fi access point can be upgraded to full 3G or LTE cellular capability by installing the Universal Small Cell 5310 "clip-on" module. This fits within the power budget of Power over Ethernet, avoiding the need for additional cabling or external power source, and simplifying the installation.
  • The ASR 5000 Series Small Cell gateway is already installed at several mobile operators, including AT&T where it supports over 1 million 3G Microcells. Fully standards compliant, it interoperates and supports 3rd party small cells.
  • Management and provisioning, with scalable processes to automate configuration and ongoing upgrade. CloudBase ensures secure delivery of operating software and updates. Quantum SON actively manages more than 1 million cell sectors spread across many operators worldwide, co-ordinating between macrocells and small cell layers in a multi-vendor environment.

Sites with existing 3600 Wi-Fi units deployed can be quickly upgraded by installing modules in a subset of the access points, and routing the traffic back to the operator's core network.

Where do Cisco partners fit into the picture?

Rather than treat the problem with the same, costly, model required to deploy macro cell sites or DAS, Cisco used its years of expertise deploying Enterprise Wi-Fi to develop a go-to-market strategy for Enterprise small cells. Working in concert with our Mobile Network Operator customers, Cisco has developed a model that engages Cisco's extensive Enterprise Partner Program to deploy 3G/LTE as part of the partners' Wi-Fi offer and practice. Cisco Small Cell Enterprise Select enables Cisco's Wi-Fi certified partners to coordinate with Mobile Operators in order to meet their in-building small cell design, implementation, and service criteria. Enterprise Select allows enterprise customers to choose their preferred Operator while being assured of a premium service offering.

One of the most important aspects of design and implementation of an Enterprise wireless solution is how it integrates with the Enterprise IT network.

Cisco partners who have acted as system integrators within an Enterprise have an excellent appreciation of how best to design a solution with minimum impact. This takes into account security issues, such as firewall routing, independent cabling, Ethernet routing configuration and power considerations.

Cisco is unique in having a strong direct channel to the Enterprise sector as well as a separate Service Provider sales and solution arm that caters for network operators.

Are Enterprise businesses and building owners ready for such a radical solution?

We are finding Enterprise Wi-Fi is at a crossroads today. Many businesses understand they need great in-building wireless service but recognise that this is not their core business. This creates a significant outsourcing opportunity which network operators are well placed to capture. Their large resources and wide range of specialist expertise, from security to operational management, are attractive to CIOs from the small to large businesses.

The reality is that Cisco is not delivering a radical product, but it is taking a radical approach. However, an approach that is fully supported by the enterprises and Mobile Network Operators alike. By pairing Cisco's enterprise customers, with Cisco's partner network and Cisco's Mobile Network Operators we are creating value in a market that was previously challenged. Operators gain deeper access to enterprise network and wireless services, without many of the traditional costs (e.g. site acquisition, rental fees, and security). Enterprises get a superior service offering with better coverage and capacity, as well as creating a means to deliver new services to their employees and customers.

When we look at how the cellular industry needs to scale additional capacity while lowering its costs, this approach delivers both. When you consider that most data is consumed indoors (and that percentage is growing), this just reinforces the case.

Have operators been waiting for multi-mode 3G/LTE before moving forward?

Operators look carefully at the total cost of ownership and especially the cost of deployment. Many appear to want a "Swiss Army Knife" product that is packed with features and capability. They want to transition their data services to LTE, seeing it as a revenue generating technology that can compete with Wi-Fi. This is where we see most optimism and opportunity.

Meanwhile the Enterprise market is looking for voice solutions that could quickly be addressed today with 3G. This has held the market back to some extent, while the industry waits for VoLTE to become more mature.

Cisco is alleviating the need to wait as it has products for 3G, LTE and Wi-Fi including several which combine these in various enterprise friendly form factors, today!

Further insights

Download a ThinkSmallCell white paper on The Enterprise - Unlocked directly from our resources section

View the slides and recording from our webinar on the topic which also features a presentation from Alan McNab of Cisco and a Q&A session.


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#1 anthony mccry said: 
Decent article, however I'm very interested in locating more in-depth details surrounding how Cisco is integrating 3GPP releases supporting features such as SON, Carrier Aggregation, and Comp. I would also like to understand in more detail the architecture addresses messaging such as hand-offs an ultimately the management of all the messaging being relayed between the UE device, RAN, Controller, and Mobile Network Operators core EPC.
0 Quote 2014-08-13 22:25
#2 Clay said: 
Good article. The solution is there, but still not very well articulated. It isn't clear whether Cisco's solution provides multiple carrier access to the enterprise. Posing this as another revenue stream for carriers falls short in solving the in-building wireless coverage dilemma. Cisco is better served by specifically facilitating the Enterprise needs through the enterprise, not the MNO profits. They'll see those as a matter of course. The wi-fi bridge or access via unlicensed spectrum is an exciting, a potentially cost-effective solution as long as it follows the need for neutrality in the end users access the carrier networks.
-1 Quote 2015-06-12 17:13
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    A significant number of users continue to report poor mobile coverage in their homes. There will always be areas which are uneconomic for mobile operator to reach. They range from rural areas

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    The term Enterprise addresses any non-residential in-building including hotels, convention centres, transport hubs, offices, hospitals and retail outlets. It's not just intended for businesses to

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    Urban small cells (sometimes also named metrocells) are compact and discrete mobile phone basestations, unobstrusively located in urban areas. They can be mounted on lampposts, positioned on the

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    A rural small cell is a low power mobile phone base station designed to bring mobile phone service to small pockets of population in remote rural areas. These could be hamlets, small villages or

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