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Small cell device tech set to connect workplace Wi-Fi with 3G and LTE

Matt Hamblen | July 23, 2014
Cisco says small cell technology is primed for explosive growth as it plans to connect 3G and LTE cellular networks to Wi-Fi access points that are already widely deployed in many enterprise facilities.

Enterprise customers will be able to pick a mobile operator, which will then use Cisco's USC cloud-based software to activate and configure the USC to the carrier's specifications.

What Cisco has done with AT&T already with MicroCells in homes "is just a drop in the bucket for the potential" of USC, Day said.

Cisco has USC pilot programs in companies around the world, many of which plan to talk publicly about the rollouts in the coming year, Day said. The company calls the program of marketing and providing the USC devices to enterprises Cisco Small Cell Enterprise Select.

Cisco has named two technology resellers, World Wide Technology and Block Solutions, as its partners in the rollout.

One of the benefits of USC to individual users is that they will be able to connect to either cellular or Wi-Fi seamlessly and automatically without needing to find a Wi-Fi hotspot and logging on, Day said. Called Hotspot 2.0 or Passpoint, these automatic connections were demonstrated at the last Mobile World Congress in Barcelona by 10 different cooperating cellular carriers and Wi-Fi providers.

"When you come into range, the technology logs you on and it is secure, predictable and fast," Day said. "LTE gives the performance of Wi-Fi and Wi-Fi looks like cellular. Suddenly, we feel like all the pieces are coming together for the first time."

Behind the modular technology of USC devices being deployed to enterprises, Cisco will be providing a broad mobility strategy for wireless carriers that maintains centralized networks that manage macro cells and small cells together so that data loads are balanced. The software will be self-learning, to help adapt to particular systems and circumstances, Day said.

Day didn't divulge the cost of the USC devices, but predicted they will be a fraction of the cost of deploying macro cells, which are larger devices often used to boost a wireless signal in a building or campus.

One category of existing small cell technology used inside of buildings to boost wireless signals is called Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) which are provided by several large vendors such as Ericsson and SpiderCloud. "They have been around for some time with mixed results," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"Cisco seems to be using USC to make the whole complex process much simpler by pre-designing small cells to fit in Cisco networks already installed in the enterprise," Gold said. "It's a good idea overall, but still requires a technical installation process that needs to be handled by experts."

Cost concerns have prevented some large companies from implementing small cell technologies, and it's not clear how much USC will lower those costs, Gold added. "Cisco hasn't explicitly talked about lowering the cost barrier," he said.


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