Cisco's small cell strategy: Be the un-macrocell vendor

Cisco Systems, which announced earlier this month that it will acquire small cell vendor Ubiquisys, is positioning itself as the un-macrocell provider when it comes to extending coverage and capacity. Cisco doesn't hold any grudges against macrocells, the company just thinks small cells are where the future action will be.

Jared Headley

Jared Headley

"The biggest thing on [small cell deployments], especially for Cisco, is that, unlike Alcatel-Lucent (NYSE:ALU), Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC), Samsung or Huawei, we don't make macro radios. And let me be clear, we won't. But we are buying Ubiquisys, so we've made the clear statement that were going to be in radio, but from a small cell perspective," said Jared Headley, senior director of small cell solutions within Cisco's mobility business group, in an interview with FierceBroadbandWireless.

He contends that because Cisco does not have a legacy macrocell business to protect, it is best positioned to move the industry forward into the brave new world of small cells. "I see macro radio vendors' small cell strategy as 'number one, build more macro,'" said Headley.

"We believe the mobile network needs to be more dynamic, and there is so much information in the network that is valuable in so many different ways to optimize and monetize," he added.

Cisco's small cell ambitions are being aided by the more than $1.5 billion in acquisitions it has recently made in the mobile arena. Those have become part of its Quantum Suite of offerings. The company paid $475 million for Intucell, which specializes in self-optimizing network (SON) software for radio access network (RAN) and small cell integration; an undisclosed amount for BroadHop, which provides more than 70 policy installations at service providers around the world; an undisclosed amount for ThinkSmart, provider of location intelligence and analytics; and $1.2 billion for Wi-Fi and cloud networking vendor Meraki.

The Intucell acquisition paid off immediately for Cisco. "We closed it the day before the Mobile World Congress, and it flipped the conversation for us" in meetings with operators at the show, said Headley. That's because Intucell enables Cisco to manage heterogeneous networks (HetNets) by optimizing operators' existing macro radios and dynamically integrating new small cells into the macro networks.

Having Intucell's technology on board opens the door to Cisco's small cell solutions in outdoor locations because operators can be less concerned about mixing large and small base stations from multiple suppliers, said Headley. "I think a key element that makes the outdoor small cell deployments successful, is when you can show multi-vendor, multi-access macro to small cell integration, handover and handoff," he added.

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