There was significant Small Cells buzz during last months Mobile World Congress, where Cisco announced a range of innovative products and solutions that can be used to accelerate the market adoption of small cells. In particular, I spoke at the Small Cell Forum’s Small Cell Zone were I described how Cisco is accelerating enterprise small cell deployments, through a combination of:

  • driving an E2E enterprise architecture that is able to span single 50 sq.m teleworker installations through to 50,000 sq.m campus deployments
  • cloud based Mobility IQ providing Wi-Fi and Small Cell network, user and business intelligence with dashboards that enable integration into enterprise managed service offers
  • channel enabled commercial models that leverage Cisco’s installed base intelligence and vertical sector segmentation to prioritize, qualify, design and install enterprise small cells
  • and, the topic that I want to drill into today, virtualizing small cell core networks and management systems that can be deployed in minutes instead of months, and consumed on a pay-as-you-grow basis

Small Cells have always been easy to deploy with integrated self configuration capabilities and Cisco has now deployed over 2 million base stations in residential and enterprise environments.

However, while the Self Organizing Networking (SON) functionality has been successfully used to automate the per access point deployment costs, enabling small cells to be quickly integrated into a multi-vendor macro environment, there are still significant barriers to small cell adoption from an end-to-end perspective.

The small cell system requires many network functions to be deployed, including TR-069 ACS, performance management systems, security gateways, small cell gateways and core IP networking, that all need to be in place before the first small cell can be installed. In some instances, the deployment of such traditional network functions requires many weeks and in some cases months to deploy, configure, validate and troubleshoot.

Whereas such conventional approaches could be applicable to the planned deployments of hundreds of thousands of residential small cells, Cisco is working with many mobile operators that are interested in using our small cells to address non-residential use cases, especially for enterprise deployments. In such cases, the legacy deployment procedures are severely challenged to meet the twin requirements of scale and time-to-market pressure.

The obstacles of integration effort and significant upfront investment in networking functionality has clearly hindered adoption of enterprise small cells and so Cisco has looked to revolutionize the deployment of its small cells with its Virtual Heterogeneous Networking (vHetNet) solution. Cisco vHetNet dramatically simplifies the ordering to production process, enabling mobile operators to operate vHetNet pods that can support scalability to as few as 1000 small cells. The “click to deploy” capability automates the build, verification and configuration of all small cell components, with no user intervention. Configuration errors that would normally take significant time to debug and resolve are eradicated.

Cisco vHetNet is a pod-based architecture that provides mobile operators the ability to modularize the small cell infrastructure into easily replicable units called pods. Pods deliver operational simplification, enabling operators to plan and deploy an initial pod which guarantees a certain scale and performance along with a scalable data center network. The vHetNet architecture provides a predictable and homogenous method for adding self-contained pods as additional small cells get deployed, allowing mobile operators to match investment in small cell core network infrastructure with the growth in deployments of small cell equipment.

This vHetNet architecture can revolutionize small cell deployments. Operators can go from out of the box to a fully operational small cell system, including TR-069 ACS, performance management systems, security gateways, small cell gateways and core IP networking, in less than 60 minutes, dramatically lowering the barriers to small cell deployment

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Mark Grayson

Cisco Fellow

Cisco’s Emerging Technologies & Innovation Group