Cisco suspends small cell ambitions

Cisco ending its licensed spectrum small cell activities. For now.

Cisco USC 3331

Cisco USC 3331

Cisco has confirmed that it is end-of-lifing its Universal Small Cell range. The company posted a document on its website in April stating that USC products would be discontinued later this year, something that went un-noticed by the media. It said, “Cisco announces the end-of-sale and end-of-life dates for the Cisco USC 3G small cell portfolio. The last day to order the affected product(s) is July 27, 2017.”

Edward Gubbins, an analyst at GlobalData, previously CurrentAnalysis, released a research note to the market in which he said Cisco had confirmed that it was ending its USC range. That note said, “Cisco confirmed to GlobalData what documents on its website had suggested – that the company’s entire in-house licensed-spectrum small-cell base station portfolio is scheduled to reach the end of its life in July. That includes the residential USC 3000 products and the USC 5000 and USC 7000 enterprise products.”

Gubbins, in a separate email to TMN, said that Cisco’s move “isn’t completely surprising”. The enterprise small cell space is already challenging for vendors and was even more so for Cisco, which has no wider RAN business to leverage.

“Add to that the fact that they’d chosen to partner for a significant part of this business and the fact that Cisco’s been very quiet about both parts of this business for a long time (the in-house portfolio and the partnership), and this move isn’t completely surprising,” Gubbins said.

Cisco’s efforts in LTE small cells had been led by its partnership with SpiderCloud, in which Cisco white-labelled SpiderCloud products. That relationship too shifting, with Cisco no longer directly selling SpiderCloud gear.

The departure from mobile small cells, such as it is, does not necessarily mean the end of Cisco’s efforts in the licensed spectrum RAN. Cisco has been leading work within Small Cell Forum to define interfaces that would enable virtual-physical splits of RAN functions, and has also OpenSourced much of that work. Its aim here is to act as an enabler to help operators build a multi-vendor vRAN, providing RAN software at baseband and other levels. 

Cisco Small Cells

Cisco Small Cell marketing in happier times


However, the shuttering of its USC range and development brings the curtain down on a part of the business into which Cisco had committed significant resources, not just in its Ubiquisys acquisition but in ongoing development. In recent times the Service Provider Mobility department of Cisco has seen widespread personnel change, both at top leadership and product management level. There’s no doubt that Cisco had envisioned it would have a role in most areas of the mobile network, aside from the licensed spectrum macro RAN, but despite some success via its partnership with ip.access for the AT&T Microcell, it has not been able to achieve small cell sell-through.

It is now less clear what the strategy is, pending further announcements or reaction from the company itself. Gubbins, in his note, said exiting this area after “investing in it for years… calls into question the clarity of Cisco’s vision and soundness of its strategic abilities.”