Cisco combines hardware, design into tested packages for metro-scale deployment: The company announced their plan today to sell integrated packages of their wireless mesh equipment, wireless management systems, and routers that would let metro-scale service providers avoid building each deployment from the ground up each time. Joel Vincent of Cisco said in a briefing last week that this streamlined approach--known as ServiceMesh--will allow service providers to go from answering a city's request for proposal (RFP) to "having revenue as soon as possible."
Cisco has optimized their package to integrate applications across the network, including such popular municipal examples as wireless meter reading, in-the-field building inspection reports, and general public safety communications. The idea is that with Cisco providing help on the glue that binds these top-level applications from a variety of existing municipal and enterprise vendors into the wireless network, service providers can mix and match solutions without reinventing the wheel. This would result in more consistent deployments at lower cost.
Cisco's own services division can provide the design help necessary to put the integrated package together; Cisco's partners, like IBM, will also be able to bundle and resell this new offering.
This new offering is tied with Cisco's announcement that eight medium-sized cities have been deployed through service provider partners with packages derived from this reference design. Vincent said that most of the upcoming city RFPs would be from sub-500,000-population municipalities where there's less of a user base across which to spread design costs, making efficient planning and upfront integration more crucial. The international market is also heating up, and Vincent expected that a fair amount of future business would come from outside the U.S., citing Singapore's near-term effort to unwire the entire country as one example.
Vincent likened ServiceMesh to the way in which hardware products move from chip vendors into a broader marketplace. "If you think of a chip company that wants to spark the Wi-Fi revolution, the first product to come out was probably a reference design from the chip company. Then all the product companies took it and productized it," he said, turning it into an item to sell. When a service provider asks, how do I add wireless Internet access to a city, Cisco can provide that reference design as a well-thought-out starting point with the majority of pieces in place, Vincent said.
Vincent made the fascinating prediction that most networks on this scale would wind up offering Internet access at no cost, with the area that service providers derived revenue from coming solely from specific municipal, business, and consumer applications that would run over the network. "The days of charging money just to access the network are slowly disappearing," Vincent said. "Service providers have to stand back and say as the cost of pure access and [voice] minutes decline," where will revenue come from.
Cisco has worked closely with IBM to combine the design and deployment of networks, with the two companies finding a neat fit between Cisco's architecture and IBM's application focus. The two are part of two MetroConnect consortiums: the first, with Azulstar and Seakay won the Wireless Silicon Valley bid; the second, with Azulstar gave them Winston-Salem. In the former case, over 40 separate municipal entities, mostly cities, will strike separate deals with the consortium, and should give Cisco's approach an excellent test bed for both ease of deployment and adding other features to the mix.