MWCA: Cisco's 5G play and T-Mobile deal

Cisco's upgraded ASR 9000 and IOS XR operating system is aimed at helping carriers prepare their mobile networks for a 5G launch.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Cisco's 5G play will see it assist carriers in their bid to launch 5G mobile networks via its upgraded edge routing platform combined with automation software and pay-as-you-go capabilities, the networking giant has revealed.

Speaking with ZDNet during Mobile World Congress Americas (MWCA) in Los Angeles on Wednesday, SVP and GM of Cisco's Service Provider business Jonathan Davidson said 5G is all about delivering new services, which requires flexibility.

Cisco's new XR software and new silicon will enable this, he said.

"As you start to move to 5G and the era of delivering services, we have to have the ultimate amount of flexibility, and this is what this virtual world gives us," Davidson explained, saying Cisco allows for the delivery of services within weeks rather than months or years.

Cisco had earlier this week announced an upgrade of its ASR 9000 edge routing platform with automation software, a new networking processor with high-density 100GE line cards to boost network performance, and improvements to its IOS XR network operating system in a bid to enable carriers to adopt 5G.

The flexible consumption model to purchase capacity on demand for the product is part of Cisco's bid to reduce the "time to value" for carriers in deploying new services and gaining revenue from them, especially as carriers' opex, capex, and average revenue per user (ARPU) are all flat to down.

"In order to [decrease that time to value], you need to have the right hardware, the right silicon, which is our fourth generation of silicon; you need to be able to have the quality that you need on our XR software; and then you need to remove barriers to deployment, which is that pay-as-you-go flexible business model," he explained.

"That will help carriers in continuing to prepare their networks for 5G."

The IOS XR enhancements will also enable carriers to adopt multi-cloud capabilities, he said.

"[5G] is also about continuing to enable the multi-cloud; if you go back four or five years, everyone thought there was going to be one cloud to rule them all, which is not really the way that it works, we don't live in The Lord of the Rings," Davidson told ZDNet.

"It's really about having the ability to have consistency of policy and security for our workloads and our applications, and enabling service providers to play a key role in helping enterprises connect to those various clouds."

The Cisco ASR 9000 has been available for 10 years, with more than 4,500 service providers, enterprises, and public sector customers utilising it across their networks.

Back in June, CEO Chuck Robbins had flagged that Cisco was working on a 5G innovation to be launched later this year with customers, pointing out that the networking giant is responsible for much of the infrastructure underpinning the delivery of 5G.

"Think about it: Once traffic leaves the base station, it's all us," Robbins told ZDNet during Cisco Live 2018 in Orlando, with 5G therefore "incredibly important" to the networking giant's business.

During MWC Barcelona in February, Cisco had launched its 5G Now portfolio, at the time saying it was aiming to help customers manage multi-cloud workloads across the "full ecosystem of private, public, and hybrid clouds to connect enterprise, consumers, and service providers".

5G Now includes solutions across security, client services, and multi-cloud deployments, as well as a mobile virtualised packet core called Cisco Ultra, which will provide customers with a platform to deploy services on Internet of Things (IoT) and radio solutions.

Read also: Cisco: 5G focus on making new revenue for carriers

Cisco also used MWCA to announce the use of its distributed software-defined networking (SDN) architecture to complete the build-out of a virtualised packet core across T-Mobile's entire mobile network.

This marks the world's largest virtualised packet core, according to Cisco, with the two companies also signing a five-year deal to continue building out the carrier's 5G packet core.

"This was a significant undertaking for us, shifting from a centralised to a distributed core architecture across our footprint, and we couldn't have achieved that without virtualisation," T-Mobile CTO Neville Ray said on Wednesday at MWCA.

"This means we can further our 5G plans with more flexibility and agility to deliver new services to our customers -­- and with Sprint, we'll shift it all into overdrive."

T-Mobile, which is aiming to merge with Sprint next year, earlier this week announced a $3.5 billion deal with Ericsson to deliver its 5G networks.

During MWC Barcelona in February, Ray told ZDNet that his carrier's 5G deployment across 30 cities this year -- Los Angeles, New York, Las Vegas, and Dallas are to have the service by 2019 -- is "moving well", with the 600MHz LTE rollout beginning last year and much of the hardware being 5G NR capable.

Ookla claimed in a recent report that the T-Mobile merger with Sprint "could result in an unmatched network in the face of 5G", with Sprint's own 5G plans to see it launch in Los Angeles, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, New York City, Phoenix, and Kansas City.

This week, however, the Federal Communications Commission told Sprint and T-Mobile that it needs more time to review their planned merger.

The federal regulatory agency published a letter [PDF] saying that it is pausing its informal, 180-day "transaction shot clock" in order to review newly submitted materials from the companies.

Cisco is also using MWCA to showcase a 5G NR standalone data call using the 28GHz spectrum band; a pre-certified ready-to-deploy open virtualised RAN system in partnership with Intel, Redhat, Tech Mahindra, Altiostar, and Qwilt; 5G standalone Cisco Ultra Packet Core on Google Cloud Platform; and Massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (Massive MIMO) with 3D beamforming for LTE and 5G with Blue Danube.

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