Cisco: Mobile Ambition vs. History

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich

Summary Bullets:

  • Cisco’s position in mobile infrastructure has steadily evolved over the years.
  • Its recent vision around small cells, WiFi, policy, network optimization and monetization highlights that shift.
  • Now, it is incumbent on the vendor to demonstrate how it’s executing on that vision.

We’re currently in the middle of updating our assessment of Cisco in the mobile access infrastructure space.  This process involved multiple drafts, along with a vendor review opportunity.  As I was doing my part in the chain – getting Sr. Analyst Ed Gubbins some feedback on his solid analysis – it occurred to me just how far Cisco has come in wireless.

In his analysis, Ed calls out how Cisco’s vision around its Quantum suite in mobility – pulling together small cells, WiFi, policy, network optimization and user analytics – is pretty ambitious and may scare off some operators which see it as too complex.  I remember making this point back around the Mobile World Congress timeframe when the vision was first laid out.  At the time, however, there was a larger point to be made; this sort of vision is particularly impressive for Cisco.  This is not to imply that Cisco isn’t full of creative people with novel ideas on how to help operators make money from mobile.  Instead, it is simply about looking back and realizing that, for many years, Cisco’s core message in mobility revolved around IP.  As mobile networks moved towards IP, Cisco would say, its relevance in the mobile network would only increase.  While true, the lifespan of this message was bound to be limited.  Why?

  • Where IP is important to mobile networks, Cisco’s competitors did their best to build their expertise in the space.
  • The RAN still comprises a major share of mobile operator network spend.  If you want to move from simply being a ‘vendor’ to the vaunted role of ‘partner,’ getting deeper into the RAN is critical.
  • Carrier WiFi has been a true success point for Cisco.  However, as operators look to WiFi (alongside small cells) as one part of a holistic indoor coverage and capacity story, Cisco needed to have a deeper story.
  • Technology thought leadership matters to operators; they want to buy solutions from vendors which are more than just a sum of their product parts and they know they need help with monetizing networks in new ways.

On this last point, you need look no further than Cisco’s recent work with Verizon on a new innovation center in San Francisco.  The cost of downtown San Francisco real estate alone signals how important this is to all involved.  Against that backdrop, it is now incumbent on Cisco to demonstrate how it’s executing on the vision it outlined back around Mobile World Congress.  Examples of operators leveraging advanced monetization capabilities aren’t just important for demonstrating that Cisco has the products and expertise to turn its vision into reality.  They’re also important for helping operators see what’s possible – for fueling their interest in new innovative service models and associating Cisco with them.

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