Cisco Moves to Optimize Wireless Networks

Carl Weinschenk

There are several ways to get rich in technology. One is to be brilliant and invent an iconic device such as the iPhone. Another – which involves a tremendous amount of brain power as well – is to see the way in which the world is moving and develop some sort of supporting or ancillary technology. Then wait for companies such as Cisco or Microsoft to come along and take out its checkbook.

Cisco this week announced that it is purchasing Ubiquisys, a British company that specializes in small cell technology. Essentially, small cells – which include femtocells, microcells and picocells – in a variety of ways work with the existing macrocells to improve mobile service. That helping hand may be improving service within premises, bringing coverage to nooks and crannies within the coverage area that need a bit of a push or by helping to offload cellular traffic onto the Internet.

In blog at the Cisco site, head of corporate business development Hilton Romanski linked the deal to two others recently made by the vendor. BroadHop and Intucell were acquired in deals that closed in January and February, respectively.

The three focus on optimizing wireless networks. Here is part of the “boilerplate” from a BroadHop release:

BroadHop’s advanced next-gen policy management solutions enable service providers to control network resources in real time, monetize new services and applications, and deliver personalized, identity-based services in wireless and wireline networks.

This, in turn, is how Intucell describes its role:

Using OSS data our technology detects coverage, overload and other issues in real time and automatically adjust the network to answer them. For example, when too many users are connected to a single cell tower, our system automatically adjusts the coverage by looping in assistance from nearby towers. The result is a “breathing network” that responds to actual changes in RF conditions.

The pattern to which Romanski refers is not hard to follow: One of the companies produces cells smaller than legacy macrocells with a variety of use cases. The second greatly extends the control operators enjoy over what flows through those suddenly more flexible and diverse networks and the third enables that network to heal and/or optimize itself without bothering us humans.

This effort – which certainly is matched by other big vendors via acquisition, internal development or a mix of the two – shows that the drive to optimize the efficiency of all forms of wireless and cellular networking is in full throttle. There are at least three goals: Increase the amount of data that can be squeezed into a given amount of bandwidth; shift as much as of that traffic as possible to lower-cost, unlicensed spectrum; and improve the end-user experience.

Simultaneously achieving all three goals – and keeping them from conflicting with each other – is vital. Without clever management, for instance, priority traffic could get the best-effort treatment and thus run the risk of violating a service-level agreement. Likewise, lack of planning tools could give top priority to email about the corporate cafeteria menu. Neither outcome matters in isolated instances. Multiplying these inefficiencies across millions of sessions and thousands of hours leads to significant problems, however.

Cisco, of course, is not the only player trying to get all the colors on the same side of the networking Rubik’s Cube. After all, Infonetics predicts that the small cell sector will be worth $2.7 billion in 2017. But Cisco is among the smartest – and has the cash to make some clever folks very wealthy.

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