Cisco unveils software, hardware for hybrid wireless networks

New technology can link 3G, 4G and Wi-Fi networks; set for demonstration at Mobile World Congress next week

Cisco has introduced small cell hardware and intelligent software designed to help carriers and enterprises improve wireless connections over hybrid networks made of 3G and 4G cellular and Wi-Fi technologies.

The products, which Cisco plans to demonstrate at next week's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, are intended to help networks grapple with a projected 13-fold increase in the size of the mobile Internet by 2017, Cisco officials said.

The intelligent software, called Cisco Quantum, is based on technologies Cisco gained from its recent $1.5 billion smaller company buying spree and from in-house development efforts.

The new hardware includes a 3G small cell module that can be plugged into Cisco Aironet Wi-Fi access points to integrate Wi-Fi and 3G cellular. Also, Cisco unveiled a standalone version of the module, which is about the size of half of a shoebox, officials said.

A new ASR 901-S router, about the size of a pizza box, that provides outdoor wireless connectivity on light poles and bus stops, connecting fiber and copper backhaul to cellular and Wi-Fi wireless signals from end users, was also announced.

Cisco did not disclose the pricing of any of the new products.

Kit Beall, Cisco area vice president for service provider mobility, said in an interview that small cells are coming down in price, and that Cisco can make the new products cost-effective.

He estimated that both AT&T and Verizon Wireless already have about 100,000 mega-cells on conventional cell towers in the U.S., and expect to deploy 1 million small cells in coming years to expand wireless coverage and speed.

Cisco Quantum software, meanwhile, will help make all connections across hybrid wireless networks, so that Wi-Fi networks can communicate with 3G and 4G networks, said Shailesh Shukla, Cisco's general manager of software for service provider mobility.

"The world is evolving to combine 3G, 4G, Wi-Fi and small cell. To manage the radio pieces across all four requires intelligence," said Shukla.

Shukla said the Quantum software is divided into suites for network abstraction, policies, analytics and WAN orchestration.

The orchestration suite is designed for traffic management and efficiency in IP/MPLS (Internet Protocol/Multiprotocol Label Switching) networks, he said.

Much of Quantum software was built in-house but also depends on software from the acquisitions of Intucell, BroadHop and other smaller companies. The software will also include technology from Cariden Technologies, which Cisco has agreed to buy.

He predicted that Quantum will "leapfrog the competition" because it "stitches together" Cisco's number one market position in Wi-Fi instrastructure, mobile backhaul and other networking areas.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Read more about mobile/wireless in Computerworld's Mobile/Wireless Topic Center.

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