Altiostar + Cisco: Where’s the Connection?

Peter Jarich
Peter Jarich

Summary Bullets:

  • What Altiostar is working on, much less its connection to Cisco, will only become clear when the company comes out of stealth mode.
  • Cisco’s interests in new LTE RAN R&D would align well with C-RAN architectures.

We’ve all heard of Ötzi, right?  No?  Well, here’s what you need to know:

  1. He lived around 3,300 BCE.
  2.  He was found – naturally mummified – by tourists off a walking trail in the Ötztal Alps (Austrian-Italian border).
  3. He had a number of tattoos.  Brad Pitt has a tattoo of him.
  4. An arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder and bruises/cuts on his hands led researchers to speculate on the cause of his death.
  5. Some people claim that Ötzi is cursed, with people involved in his discovery mysteriously dying.
  6. When I build my next tech startup, it will be known as ÖTZIcom until it comes out of stealth mode.

Beyond some engaging discussion points for your next holiday party, what’s the point here?  Ötzi reminds me a lot of your average stealth-mode startup.  We don’t know a lot about them.  Absent solid knowledge, a mythology builds up around them.  They really aren’t impacting daily lives, but people get obsessed trying to figure them out.  Which leads us back to Altiostar.

Earlier this week, we outlined what we know about the stealth-mode company.  To recap: it has raised a lot of money ($50+ million); it is focused on the LTE RAN; it is helmed by the founder of Starent; it seems to have connections to Cisco.  The question we left off with was a simple one:  “What would Cisco want in a company that’s focused on the LTE RAN, especially given the recent acquisitions of Intucell and Ubiquisys?”  Outside Cisco or Altiostar, it’s likely that few people know for sure.  We can, however, speculate.

  • Macrocell vs. Small Cell.  Ubiquisys gave Cisco the assets to deliver small-cell base stations.  Intucell gave it a play in the macrocell RAN from a SON and optimization standpoint.  This leaves it without a real macrocell base station play; Altiostar could be a solution.  Now, at 2012’s Mobile World Congress, Cisco CEO John Chambers declared, “We are now entering the post-macrocell era.”  Still, Cisco’s a pragmatic company, and if carriers look to be spending on the macrocell LTE RAN into the long term, this is a place it may want to play.
  • C-RAN Processing.  One way to tackle the macrocell LTE RAN without just building another traditional base station is via Cloud-RAN architectures (pooling and coordinating baseband in one location, connecting up to remote radios).  A lot has been made of C-RAN being nothing more than just a solution for metro areas with an abundance of fiber.  That’s okay.   Metro areas are often fiber-rich and are where capacity demands are greatest.  Moreover, C-RAN architectures help support LTE-A features such as eICIC and COMP.  Oh, and as Cisco looks to push more and more capabilities into the cloud, C-RAN architectures play to its vision.  It might seem a stretch to expect eNodeB baseband to be running on generic data center hardware in the near term, but the concept is in the labs of major RAN OEMs and it seems like just the thing for a startup to tackle.
  • C-RAN Networking.  Early on, I was advised to look at any acquisition Cisco makes through the lens of how it drives network traffic.  The idea here that Cisco is a networking company and everything it does is with the aim of driving traffic.  C-RAN plays into this by essentially shifting the networking burden from backhaul (baseband-to-carrier network) to fronthaul (radio-to-baseband, most likely via the CPRI interface).  That fronthaul link could be optics; Cisco has a play here.  We’ve seen carriers talk up CPRI over Ethernet; Cisco would have an even bigger play here.

Of course, via its Ubiquisys acquisition and its focus on service provider WiFi, Cisco has made a point to stress that it sees most mobile traffic being generated in specific (often indoor) hotspots.  Thinking about the similarities between C-RAN and active DAS architectures, it’s not too much to see another potential link here too.

Does this all confirm that Altiostar is working on C-RAN solutions?  No.  We will need to wait for the company to reveal its focus.  Heck, there’s no confirmation that Cisco’s even connected to the company.  If it is, however, all of this does confirm that Cisco is serious about mobility in a way that many operators would have doubted just a few years back.

One thought on “Altiostar + Cisco: Where’s the Connection?

Leave a Reply