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Cisco offers pint-size cell relief, lets mobile data spurt freely

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Cisco CEO John Chambers has confirmed that it will start making cellular base stations, just not very big ones, with a view to integrating the cellular tech into Wi-Fi access points.

The detail came out during a call with investors following the company's quarterly results, which showed increasing profit and revenue but declines in the sales of switching gear and routers. That drop was apparently down to European operators not spending enough on their networks, so small cells are a natural extension for the company.

Cellular network infrastructure used to be a specialist operation, left to a handful of large suppliers, but just as phone hardware has become commoditised to the point where the most popular phone manufacturers have no history in radio, so base station suppliers don't need to be so mired in radio technology.

Macro networks - the big base stations hoisted atop braced masts - are still something of a specialist subject, but Small Cells, which now outnumber their macro brethren, are much more intelligent bits of kit which can be fitted with the minimum of fuss and managed from a central office - exactly the kind of kit which Cisco excels at producing.

Cisco's cells will, apparently, be the kind of thing one sees atop a pole, or bolted to the wall of a shopping centre, and only sold to network operators who own the frequencies in which they operate. Mobile firms will be able to use the small cells in densely populated areas to increase their capacity to push calls and data.

Network World reminds us that Cisco isn't completely new to this market, having worked with AT&T on its consumer-femtocell offering, but that was with the aid of ip.access and didn't lead to Small Cells entering the product catalogue.

Cisco will still want to buy in some technology for its small cells, particularly for LTE support. There's a handful of companies making internals for small cells these days, Mindspeed and Ubiquisys leap to mind, and presumably most of them will be sitting by the phone for the next few months hoping that Cisco will be in touch. ®

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