Cisco gets in on 5G action, including 5G private wireless

Jonathan Davidson was named SVP and general manager of Cisco's Mass-Scale Infrastructure Group in March 2020. Since then, he’s led the group that builds silicon, optics, hardware and software for Cisco’s largest network customers. As part of that, his group also oversees Cisco’s 5G ambitions.

Speaking at a virtual event last week, Davidson noted that Cisco was involved in helping T-Mobile establish its 5G standalone (SA) core, which T-Mobile announced in August 2020.

RELATED: T-Mobile launches nationwide 5G standalone network

“Cisco was a big part of helping that transition,” said Davidson. For T-Mobile, Cisco provided technology for user plane function, session management function and policy control function.

He said 5G gives Cisco an opportunity to help its customers move from legacy appliance-based architectures to cloud-native virtualized infrastructures as they update their core networks.

Although Cisco was slow to embrace disaggregated infrastructure, the company is on board with it now, driven by demand from its customers. “Generally, appliances are upgraded every 6, 12 or 18 months,” Davidson said. “We have customers using our cloud-native technology that are doing upgrades once or twice a week. And I cannot overemphasize the capabilities of cloud-native technologies as it relates to every aspect of network infrastructure, but especially inside of the mobile network.” 

Jonathan Davidson

Davidson also sees opportunity as operators also must update their IP transport networks for 5G. “The IP transport network all the way from the cell site router all the way back into the core of the IP infrastructure has to change,” he said. “There is just too much bandwidth capacity in 5G networks to use the existing installed base.”

And finally, Cisco wants to be in on the open radio access network (RAN), as well. It has some credibility in this realm because the company was an early investor in the open RAN software vendor Altiostar.

RELATED: Cisco’s early bet on RAN virtualization propels Altiostar

John Chapman, a Cisco Fellow and CTO of Cisco’s Broadband Technologies unit, works under Davidson’s group. Chapman spoke at a press event a few weeks ago, and he said that open RAN has well, opened, the radio network to more players and disaggregated software from hardware. “We at Cisco have a lot more choices of where we can participate in this ecosystem,” said Chapman. “You don’t have to build the radios.”

Private wireless

Davidson also said that Cisco is pursuing private wireless.

For example, Cisco was part of the collaboration to deliver a private 5G network for the Department of Defense.

RELATED: Federated Wireless kicks off 5G testbed for DoD

Federated Wireless was the prime contractor for the CBRS-enabled private 5G wireless network, with partners AWS, Cisco, JMA, Vectrus, Perspecta Labs and Capstone Partners.

In addition to the DoD project, Cisco is helping various enterprises around the world to build their own private wireless networks.

One analyst on the call with Davidson said it seems like private networks would fall under Cisco’s Enterprise Networking group led by Todd Nightingale, while 5G core networks would fall under Davidson’ Mass Scale Infrastructure group.

Davidson said, “We want to make sure the technology we’re building for the mobile core is going to be the same technology that’s going to be used inside the enterprise. Obviously, the form factor and size will need to be shrunk down to fit into the enterprise form factor.”

Ultimately, Cisco wants to offer its 5G systems "as-a-service." But it doesn’t have that available today. It’s still working with individual customers, whether a service provider like T-Mobile, or an organization like DoD, on a custom on-premises basis.