Cisco, the world's best known internet equipment provider, supplies many of the high capacity routers used within the Internet backbone. It is also a leading player for Wi-Fi, especially the higher end Carrier Wi-Fi access points used by Enterprise and Network Operators. It has ambitions to be a major player in the cellular industry, focussed on providing both Wi-Fi and 3G/LTE services in-building using Small Cells but not offering outdoor macrocell basestations.
It addresses the Small Cell market by providing a complete end-to-end solution, which it has assembled through several acquisitions combined with organic/internal capabilities. It's first major deployment at AT&T was based on ip.access femtocell products and Cisco's own femtocell gateway. Having acquired Ubiquisys, they offer their own 3G and/or LTE inbuilding solution which could be sold directly to Enterprise customers and/or via mobile network operators. They also rebrand and resell Spidercloud E-RAN for larger enterprises. It is likely that they will focus most on the Enterprise market, especially where this can complement their extensive Wi-Fi products and capabilities.
Cisco's solution consists of four major components:
- Residential and Enterprise Small Cells
- ASR5000 Small Cell Gateway
- Small Cell Management Centre
- Quantum SON (Self Organising Network)
Residential Small Cells
It made an early strategic investment in a leading independent femtocell vendor UK based ip.access in January 2008. ATT's 3G Microcell is clearly badged as a Cisco product, with ip.access not mentioned in any of the publicity.
The unit shown on the right is their standard residential femtocell, supporting 4 concurrent calls. Other physical formats and colours are available. More product details are available from the Cisco website
After acquiring small cell access point vendor Ubiquisys in 2013, they launched a comparable residential small cell product in February 2014 - the 3331 - based on Ubiquisys techology. It is expected that sales to other networks would be based on the new product, while AT&T would continue to distribute the ip.access based solution.
Enterprise Small Cells
Cisco have taken a different approach to other standalone Small Cell products by closely integrating with their existing Aironet Wi-Fi access points. An upgrade plug-in module was launched late 2013 which adds 3G capability to existing Wi-Fi access points, sharing the same Ethernet cable for both power and backhaul transmission.
In 2014, Cisco announced an LTE module together with the option to fit two modules (of either 3G or LTE) into a similar form factor box. In 2015, Cisco announced a plug-in module based on Spidercloud E-RAN technology, branded as the USC8000 product line.
Cisco Small Cell Gateway
Cisco's Small Cell Gateway is Iu-h standard compliant and known to support other vendor Small Cells. It's based on their ASR5000 router platform.
Small Cell Management Centre
This provides operational support including fault and performance management for the small cell subsystem.
Cisco acquired Intucell who bring proven C-SON (Centralised Self Organising Network) capabilities into the overall solution. Their software co-ordinates between other vendor's macrocell networks and the Cisco small cells, adapting the configuration to improve handover, reduce interference, extend coverage and improve capacity. The system is live on serveal Tier 1 networks around the world, including AT&T Wireless.
Cisco has established a strong presence in the Carrier Wi-Fi market, with a dedicated team addressing RF and architecture issues for enterprise and public access areas. They have been involved in the WBA (Wireless Broadband Alliance) initiatives to bring more operational and architecture capabilities used in cellular networks across to Wi-Fi, such as SIM authentication and interoperability.
We have also documented our understanding of Cisco's Small Cell market strategy