'Never Disconnected:' Cisco, Partners Seek to Deepen Network Resilience

Cisco's service provider mobility leader said fixed wireless access and satellite connectivity are teaming with wireline broadband to create an always-on network.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

June 17, 2024

7 Min Read
Cisco sees fixed wireless access and low-earth orbit satellites contributing to a "never disconnected" world of network resiliency.
Atomic62 Studio/Shutterstock

Customer demands for network resilience and redundancy are growing, and the world of connectivity is rising to the occasion.

So said Masum Mir, Cisco's senior vice president and general manager of provider mobility. Mir in an interview with Channel Futures at this month's Cisco Live shared a vision of a world of ubiquitous connectivity, powered by wireline, wireless and satellite technology. At the same time, Cisco technology and channel partner services will help manage that resiliency, Mir said.

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"We truly believe this idea of 'never disconnected' is going to become reality," he told Channel Futures. "Anywhere in the world, you won't be disconnected."

Less than a month ago, Cisco and AT&T introduced an integration between AT&T fixed wireless access and Cisco Meraki cellular gateways. Namely, businesses can buy and provision AT&T fixed wireless access (FWA) through the Meraki dashboard. The new Meraki MG52 and MG52E cellular gateways provide cloud-managed eSIM technology.

The goal is a simplified and digital way for businesses to add "built-in" network resilience to their campus and branch locations, Mir said.

"The end customer doesn't have to think about it; it's just connected by default," Mir told Channel Futures. "It's almost like if you bought the phone, you open and it's connected. Now a branch operates that way — completely digital."

Related:Partners Get Hands on Starlink, Low Earth Orbit Satellites

AT&T is the first of these partnerships around Meraki and FWA, but Mir said more will follow.

"From a service provider standpoint, these distributed locations need connectivity all the time," he said. "So for service providers, now they're sitting on the value chain, not only providing connectivity, but from connectivity they are able to provided a manage router and SD-WAN solution."

Mir gave the example of retail and food services as verticals that need "extreme resiliency."

"If you think about retail, every location is part of their supply chain. For a fast food chain, all the stores combined are their production facility. So they start to think differently. When I have a branch site deployed, it's actually now mission-critical," Mir said.

Other verticals and segments are prioritizing resiliency as well, Mir said.

Beyond Wireline ...

The quarterly earnings of Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T show the rapid adoption of fixed wireless access. The technology represents the largest area of net new broadband additions, Mir said. Providers have touted their ability to reach homes in remote areas where wireline broadband doesn't reach. And while much attention has gone to residential customers in underpenetrated areas, Mir said business FWA is also on the rise. For example, Verizon reported 151,000 net FWA additions in the first quarter.

Related:State of Managed SD-WAN, SASE: VMware Portfolio Changes Cast a Heavy Shadow

Meantime, Cisco and some of its enterprise partners are making headway in selling and deploying private 5G networks.

Toby Alcock is chief technology officer at Logicalis, which became Cisco's first private 5G as-a-service partner in 2023. He said business customers are demanding more consistency in the management and delivery of their connectivity.

"It's all about the consistency. So I think that [private 5G] is going to really change that. I think that's one thing that is really going to start to become more ubiquitous in our customers," Alcock told Channel Futures. "It's not because it's sexy technology. It's just because it's easier to be more flexible. You don't have to worry about setting up big WAN links and setting up big environments. You just have the aerial that covers all the space you have, for example."

New Solutions in Orbit

Speaking of aerial, Cisco is vetting its strategy for low earth orbit (LEO) satellites, which are growing in commercial and channel adoption. Channel Futures reported that Amazon Kuiper and Eutselset OneWeb are bringing competition to a market formerly dominated by SpaceX Starlink.

Mir noted that the LEO satellite market is still working to expand beyond home broadband, but it's making good progress.

"The unreachable places are being connected. It has a price premium. It is expensive. The unit that you have to put is also bulky. You still here to put an antenna and have line of sight. But this is phase one," he said. "The progression that we are seeing on the new satellites being launched and the density of satellite that's going up — we think that it's going to be a good global coverage. There won't be any unconnected place on the planet."

Blake Darling leads Complete Communications, a technology advisor with expertise in the carrier space and a member of Cisco's Digital Solutions Integrator (DSI) program. Complete has been working to source satellite connectivity for its SD-WAN user customers.

"We are seeing a tremendous amount of adoption in Starlink and low-orbit-type products for hard-to-reach locations," Darling told Channel Futures. "We have solutions that can actually deliver a static IP and traditional billing as well with Starlink."

Mir said Cisco is looking at a 18-to-36-month window for the development of direct-to-device capabilities in LEO satellites. In the same way our cellphones tap into satellites for SOS functionality when we are out of normal range, campuses will see more built-in failover from satellite.

"Every endpoint that needs to be connected will have three options to connect to the rest of the world: direct fiber connection, 5G connection or a satellite connection," Mir said. "We believe it is going to create a new wave of creativity and opportunity."

... and Alongside Wireline

Slumping business wireline revenues and copper decommissioning often land in the headlines as carriers work on ways to rationalize their portfolios to emphasize fiber and 5G (and now satellite connectivity) over legacy access types. But Mir isn't framing 5G FWA as a competitor to existing wireline connectivity.

"Nothing's replacing; it's all about resiliency," he said.

Though Alcock contrasted a private 5G solution with WAN links, the "tech under the hood" ultimately is not the differentiator, he said.

"It's more about on consistency of experience, consistency of security, consistency of management and flexibility, and all those features that we talk about all the time in our managed services and in our offerings," he said.

Darling said customer needs determine whether LEO satellite connectivity should function as a "compliment or a replacement depending on the customer needs."

"For instance, in retail we are seeing a replacement of traditional circuits. In more traditional office environments, we are seeing it as a complement, and in hard-to-reach locations a necessity to provide adequate connectivity," he told Channel Futures.

The Value of Network Resiliency

Striking was Mir's mention of enterprises using expensive satellite connectivity as a secondary option. Does that indicate the C-suite being willing to spend more money on connectivity?

Mir said these businesses understand the value of a strong backup source. For example, the gas station on an interstate highway is depend on failover option. Its leadership understands the connection between redundancy and revenue.

"If the gas station is not connected, they will lose business. That's how all business runs. So in the case of [the gas station] losing all connection, I still have a satellite connection," he said.

The economics of redundancy are making multiple connection types more feasible at businesses, Mir said.

"Previously the cost of resiliency was higher, and it was also complex. With the evolution of SD-WAN, cost has come down. Operationally [resiliency] became easier and smarter," he said.

Asked if the enterprise C-suite is increasingly valuing network redundancy, Alcock said a better word might be "reliability." "Redundancy" to many IT people automatically means active-active or active-passive dual systems that cost double, Alcock said.

"They want more and more reliability in their network. They want us to use the technology that's available today, like AI, or at least the promise of this technology, to predict when there are going to be issues and avoid it to give me more reliability. And I think that they want that added more flexible cost as well. They don't want to spend millions on it," he said. "It's all about the economics and the reliability. I want reliability, but I don't want to pay double for it."

Mir gave the example of a customer that has added fixed wireless to a location that already had fixed broadband, for a total of one 1 gigabit per second speed.

"Let's say if I have one link fail, it's resilient, but I have a little bit of reduced capacity. SD-WAN is smart enough to prioritize which traffic should get priority," Mir said.

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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