5G needs to be architected to thrive in an environment where an increasingly higher percentage of overall mobile data is being consumed from indoor environments, and where the businesses that are responsible for those indoor environments are increasingly requiring wireless service be offered to all users, irrespective of their carrier affiliation. Consequently, lowering the barriers to indoor adoption is going to mean tackling the thorny issue of multi-operator, shared 5G networks.

With almost 10 years of small cell experience, Cisco has experienced first-hand many of the barriers that currently exist to indoor deployments. Many of which have led to the Small Cell Forum and 5G Americas to describe Wi-Fi as the default small cell technology for multi-operator support.

If multi-operator, indoor shared networks are going to be essential for 5G’s success, Cisco thought it time to review the adoption of such capabilities in today’s 4G market. What are the key takeaways from those learnings and what does the industry need to do to ensure 5G will be able to thrive indoors? These are some of the subjects covered in a new whitepaper from Cisco, entitled “5G – Thriving Indoors”.

5G’s New Radio is going to define new split options between a Centralized Unit, most likely realized as a Virtual Network Function, and a Distributed Unit, realized as a conventional Physical Network Function. One approach being championed by the small cell ecosystem is to define a multi-vendor split to enable a common DU/PNF to be shared between multiple operators who are then responsible for their own respective CU/VNFs. Looking to leverage the experience of other wireless ecosystems that use a combination of published specifications, open source libraries and code to execute interoperability testing, Cisco is pleased to announce the establishment of the “open-nFAPI” open source project, a set of libraries, simulators and associated Wireshark dissectors that is aimed at accelerating adoption of the Small Cell Forum’s multi-vendor nFAPI split architecture.

Distributed under version 2 of the Apache Software License, the code in the open-nFAPI project is conducive to integration by the widest range of industry stakeholders, from other alternative open source ecosystems interested in RAN virtualization, e.g., the Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP), the Central Office Re-architected as a Data Center (CORD) initiative and the Open Air Interface (OAI) project, through to integration into closed-source proprietary RAN products.

We think that the small cell industry has a great opportunity to drive the definition of multi-operator LTE and 5G systems using an open source approach. The establishment of the open-nFAPI open source project is the first step on this path, and Cisco welcomes other Small Cell Forum members, 3rd party developers, other open source ecosystems and researchers to contribute to the project.

Read our White Paper here.

For additional Cisco 5G content, visit our page here.


Mark Grayson

Cisco Fellow

Cisco’s Emerging Technologies & Innovation Group