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 had ambitions to be a major player in the cellular industry, investing billions in several high profile acquisitions, but these were poorly managed and Cisco withdrew from the small cell product business in 2017.
Cisco first entered the Small Cell market with a major deployment at AT&T 3G Microcell, based on ip.access femtocell product and Cisco's own femtocell gateway. This was a major system integration project and took substantial time to perfect, but became one of the largest individual residential femtocell installations at the time with over 1 million units. This solution was never resold to any other operator nor upgaded to 4G.
Cisco enhanced their 3G/4G Small Cell gateway, based on their ASR5000 platform, and successfully IoT tested with many other small cell vendors. In 2013, they acquired Ubiquisys for $350 million, a leading indepedent small cell startup, with products that were already integrated with their gateway. They were ambitious as we learned from their Director of SP Mobility, Jared Headley.
We also documented what we understood the Cisco market approach to be. It was used in a few mostly residential commercial deployments with Ubiquisys femtocells, but again there was little success in gaining new service providers as direct customers. There was little overlap between the residential and SOHO market users of femtocells and Cisco's larger Enterprise Wi-Fi customers.
At this time, Cisco also acquired Intucell, a startup company with a C-SON (Self Organising Network) solution that had been sold to AT&T and other networks worldwide. It was thought this would open the door to more Small Cell gateway sales by simplifying and automating configuration. Since that acquisition, no new sales have been publicly announced. This solution has been incorporated and rebranded into Cisco SON Suite.
Having realised that their primary market was for larger buildings where they already had an established Wi-Fi business, Cisco partnered with SpiderCloud and developed a "clip-on" module which could upgrade their Aironet Wi-Fi access points to provide 3G and/or 4G capability. This was a good solution but not sold strongly, being limited to those network operators already equipped with compatible Small Cell gateways. Cisco terminated this direct partnership in 2017, although the clip-on module remains available for direct sale by SpiderCloud.
Cisco entered into a high level strategic partnership with Ericsson in 2016, which would limit the potential for direct sales of their own cellular network equipment.
In 2017, Cisco announced an ordered end-of-life program for their Small Cell product range. No further equipment will be manufactured, but software maintenance/bug fixes are available for a few years.