‘Rivals are going the wrong way’ – Cisco teases Wi-Fi-friendly private 5G bundle
Cisco is readying a Wi-Fi-style pay-as-you-go private LTE and 5G offer for enterprises, and particularly for industrial enterprises, which comprises Cisco-led pre-sale network-design consultancy and post-sale network management support. Details about the in-between build-phase, in terms of sale-side network parts and ownership, are less clear – although, actually, the whole announcement is fairly unclear, and being saved for MWC at the end of the month.
But what is clear is Cisco has teased a plan, finally, to join the private 5G party. The biggest question is about the supply and identity of the radio access (RAN) and core network components – whether Cisco is aping the Siemens path, ostensibly, to develop its own private 5G system in house, or whether it is going with partners, as per AWS. MWC will reveal its go-to-market strategy, plus “new opportunities for global service providers”; it might also say something about Siemens’ progress to develop OT-oriented private 5G.
In terms of the ‘build’ phase – between the ‘design’ and ‘run’ phases, in which Cisco suggests it will have a direct hand – Cisco said it will work with “deployment partners”, as chosen by enterprises; logic says it will drop its new LTE/5G bundle into its reseller channels. Various press missives and exec blogs majored on the role of 5G with existing and incoming industrial Wi-Fi systems, setting Cisco (naturally) outside of the telco narrative about 5G as a Wi-Fi beater.
Masum Mir, vice president and general manager for Cisco’s mobile, cable and IoT business, commented: “Competitors are going about it the wrong way. They would have you adopt a complex, carrier-centric 5G solution that’s radically different from what you already know and use. Some even ignore Wi-Fi entirely.” The promise is Cisco’s private 5G system will ‘come’ integrated with existing Wi-Fi (and broader IT) environments.
The company revealed at the same time two new high-end Wi-Fi 6E access points, the Catalyst 9136 and Meraki MR57, to run in the new 6GHz band for “demanding hybrid business environments”. The private 5G narrative, at this stage, appears secondary for Cisco, still – at least until the 5G bun-fight at MWC. Mir commented: “We’re the only vendor to empower enterprise customers to extend what they already own and understand into new possibilities.”
What else do we know? A web page makes service level assurance (SLA) promises about private 5G management backed by 24/7 support and 99.999 percent (‘five-nines’) service availability. There is little about compatibility with ‘vertical’ and shared bands, although Cisco is talking about proper-standalone private 5G in such enterprise-licensed “clean spectrum”, nor of its intentions with campus/hybrid and sliced setups from traditional mobile operators.
But the Wi-Fi angle seems most notable, at present, in terms of both operational simplicity and business model. “You don’t have to choose between 5G and Wi-Fi – you can use both, protecting your current investments and strategies,” said Cisco. It is the same message from Siemens, representing the opposite OT-side of the new IT/OT crossover in Industry 4.0 – at the same time, arguably closer to Cisco than to the ICT-side in the IT/OT divide over industrial 5G.
Cisco is talking up a “simple [cloud-based] management portal” to align with existing Industry 4.0 tools, also integrating the kind of AI/ML-based management tools to identify odd behaviour in the network. “We handle all the complexities of the 3GPP mobile network stack,” it said. The pay-as-you-go/use model promises to derisk 5G investments for enterprises, as well, by eliminating heavy cap-ex gambles.
A statement said: “In most cases, operating private 5G isn’t part of the core business and enterprises typically prefer to minimise heavy resource commitments to non-core functions… CSPs continue to build for a digital revolution brought on by a wave of 5G, IoT, and collaboration services. 5G marks the tipping point for what’s next, ushering in a confluence of technological innovations that are reshaping industry and business landscapes.
“However, the market transformations poised to take place are challenged by the complexity of mobile networks, and 5G is complicated… The traditional CSP model has limited flexibility for scaling to meet increasingly custom needs. [Their] one-size-fits-most model fails to resonate with enterprise and industry customers, and the greatest value opportunity for 5G is [with] industries and enterprises and the massive increase in IoT devices.
“Traditionally, building cellular networks requires hefty capital expenditure for the infrastructure, and a non-trivial amount of expertise to implement the necessary services across that infrastructure, much less maintain it. Cisco is lowering the barrier of entry to consume 5G and 4G services… by abstracting the underlying functionality through APIs and an intuitive interface… [and reducing] upfront CapEx by providing simple subscription pricing.”