Cisco Systems, which is closely working with Jio and Airtel in India, believes that captive 5G offers opportunity, and the US-based company said it is open to partner with system integrators. Muntazir Abbas, Jonathan Davidson, Executive Vice President at Cisco talks on 5G-as-a-service, Jio partnership, and enterprise 5G monetisation. Edited excerpts.
What exactly is the 5G-as-a-service, and how Cisco is doing that?
So we first launched the private 5G-as-a-service system earlier this year. We were in the process. We have been in proof-of-concept trials with customers for quite some time. We are actually going to make it generally available later this month in June.
What do you mean by your customers? Are they not telecom service providers?
Customers will obviously be the government agencies, but we think that the majority of the business flows through the service providers just because of the complexity having to do with 5G. Even though we have done a lot to simplify, the majority of countries still need to get the spectrum from the carriers. So even in certain countries, like now in India with the new ruling, Germany, UK, Japan and US will be there. We still think that private 5G will flow primarily through the carriers. We have done a lot to simplify this. You (enterprises) don’t have to know the details of how radios work or the details of how 5G works. We can abstract that away and make it really simple. This basically becomes more of a management tool.
What exactly are you working with Indian telecom service providers such as Airtel and Jio with whom you already work with?
I think India is pretty early in 5G. Spectrum has to be available. The technology has to be ready. And Jio has been very public about the fact that they have been building their own homegrown technology. Plus, Mathew Oommen has said publicly that he is also going to work with vendors that make sense in different areas. So we will continue to partner with Jio, Their IP network today is all Cisco, and we’ll continue to partner with them on that. We do work on, for example, their Wi-Fi calling. We expect to continue to partner with them wherever they want us to partner with them in 5G.
Do you see an opportunity to help enterprises monetise 5G networks?
In fact, we are excited about not only ongoing projects, but actually we think we have a good understanding of what enterprises need and how to monetise their 5G network. With all the effort that all the telecom operators are putting into the enterprise and consumer, now that this is going to be a big opportunity, In India, IoT is the first use cases for private 5G, and things that actually helped accelerate 5G public consumption in all the IoT-based use cases, whether it would be for factories especially when there is a huge push for manufacturing inside the country and this is something we are working on with the government officials for quite some time.
You have a relationship with Bharti Airtel too.
Yes. We work with Airtel on 4G networks and also on one of their IP transport networks.
As 5G is round the corner, what are the challenges and trends you see?
So what we want to do is similar to Meraki – where Meraki has a cloud platform. The difference between what we are doing and what Meraki does is that Meraki actually buys the hardware from us as well. We don’t want to be in the 5G and 4G business and so we have a couple of partners that we are working with — Airspan and JMA. For some of the large factories, you can have a few radios covered. You can have full assets tracking. The need for autonomous vehicles to be able to know exactly where they are. But this whole view of IoT of where things are for tracking assets inside the factory, and tracking assets when they leave the factory. So this is where we actually think about it. The private 5G network would like to actually have assets that would transition under public 5G infrastructure as well. We think system integrators (SIs) play a huge role in private 5G. We have selected a few global SIs to start with.
How are you looking at this as a new opportunity for Cisco?
We definitely have a great opportunity in private 5G. When I say private 5G, it includes 4G. The current 4G deployments are legacy deployments. Basically, what we did was we took whatever we are selling to service providers and we took those couple of racks to do the mining operation to run and it’s not a rumple couple model. This model was all as a service for us all. Control plane and management plane are all in the cloud. We can even run the data plane in the cloud too. But due to resiliency reasons, we will be running a data plane close to the actual customer. So if you are in a big factory, the user plane that would actually sit in the factory is just a small server. We think this is a big opportunity not just for us but for SIs as well.
Are you open to partnering with SIs in India?
Yes, definitely. Once we feel like we have use cases to find the technologies, which are taking us the last couple of years, then we are starting to move to other countries. But it comes down to spectrum affordability as well. So there is no point in us spinning somebody in India or anywhere else. You will start to see a series of partnership announcements from us in SIs or local operators.
What spectrum bands could be ideal for 5G as a private basis global trends?
It depends on the use case. If you are in a big stadium, a millimeter-wave (mmWave) band is perfect. So one of the big problems in private networks is you get a connection between that mall network and network outside the mall. Because the millimeter wave is confined, if you are in a confined space. So you can also use something in the mid-band or low band.
Generally, private 5G is considered as a Wi-Fi replacement. Your views?
We get a lot of inquiries or conversations. People think of it as a Wi-FI replacement. This is not a Wi-Fi replacement. It is something for our new use cases because it’s like how these radios can cost so much more than Wi-Fi because there are apparently attacks. You just look at patents. There’s an inherent cost of patents, and to pay royalties to everybody who has all these patents that drives the cost. MacProTricks