Cisco has a big role to play in small cells

Daryl Schoolar/Ovum
19 Jul 2012

Because the small cell market is immature and its market definition can vary, Cisco has at times had difficulty being recognized for its contribution to this space. Cisco’s lack of a macrocell offering, the traditional backbone of the radio access network (RAN) market, also hurts its public perception in this area.

However, Cisco’s accomplishments – over 12 million carrier-grade Wi-Fi access points and approximately 800,000 femtocells deployed – make the vendor hard to ignore in the RAN space. Its packet core solutions also play an important role in helping to tie small cells into the larger macrocell network.

While Cisco does not compete across the entire spectrum of small cells, it is strong with residential and enterprise users. Cisco has a small cell story to tell, even if it lacks solutions for all the areas that fall under the small cell umbrella.

Cisco plays big with small cells

It often amazes me how a seemingly simple term can be so hard to define. “Small cells” is a great example. Despite countless research reports, industry shows, and white papers, there is still no common definition of what a small cell is. One challenge is that the small cell market isn’t a singular thing, but really a collection of different types of small base stations, both licensed and unlicensed, designed to address a range of end-user and operator needs.

When thinking of base station vendors the name Cisco usually doesn’t come up first. In fact it might not come up at all. There is a good reason for this. Historically base stations meant macro base stations, an area in which Cisco doesn’t compete. But the base station market is changing, and small cells are becoming a bigger factor. In small cells, Cisco is very much an important vendor.

Cisco claims to have shipped over 12 million carrier Wi-Fi access points and approximately 800,000 combined residential and enterprise femtocells. While heterogeneous networks with pico and microcells have dominated much of the recent small cell news, Wi-Fi and femtocells fit under the overall small cell umbrella as well. When looking at the broader definition of base station, it quickly becomes clear that Cisco is a major player in this space. (For more on Ovum’s definitions of small cells, see Mobile Small Cell Taxonomy, February 2012.)

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