By Ben Simmons

At Mobile World Congress today, Cisco is introducing the industry's first carrier-grade, end-to-end Wi-Fi infrastructure to deliver Next-Generation Hotspots (NGH).

It is hoped the move will help establish the company as a leader in mobile providers- an area in which Cisco's efforts are often overlooked.

“Today’s announcements are part of a bigger effort on Cisco’s part to change its market perception, with Cisco using its small cell announcement as a stage to recalibrate itself in the mobile infrastructure space," explains Daryl Schoolar, principal analyst at Ovum.

"The vendor now has a much richer story to tell with greater mobile operator focus on small cells and carrier Wi-Fi solutions - two areas Cisco is strong in — and other assets such as backhaul and mobile packet core.”

The company also announced that it is working with several leading global service providers, including AT&T, BT, PCCW, Portugal Telecom, Shaw Communications, Smart and True, to deliver innovative mobile services with a new generation of intelligent "small cell" solutions utilizing licensed and unlicensed radio technology.

Cisco, which is now embedding Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA)-approved NGH technology within its service provider Wi-Fi portfolio, recently became the first to deploy NGH technology to enable cellular-like roaming for Wi-Fi networks. The WBA's NGH initiative is based on the Hotspot 2.0 specification established by the Wi-Fi Alliance and is designed to provide mobile users with a seamless Wi-Fi experience. Cisco has deployed over 12 million access points, the majority of which can now be upgraded to support NGH, giving the company the most experience delivering the widest range of Wi-Fi solutions, including in-flight Wi-Fi, retail hotspots, stadium and large venue coverage, and extensive data offload deployments.

"We are now entering the post-macrocell era, where small cells also will play a critical role in delivering the next-generation mobile Internet," said John Chambers, Cisco chairman and CEO. "Existing mobile network infrastructures simply cannot sustain the growth we're seeing on their own. Tomorrow's mobile Internet must span multiple networks and deliver seamless and highly secure mobile experiences. This requires an architectural approach powered by a cloud-intelligent network of networks. Cisco and our service provider partners see tremendous opportunity as we together build out these networks and empower the mobile Internet generation."

Cisco's new Small Cell Gateway, based on the industry-leading Cisco ASR 5000 Series Mobile Multimedia Core Router, will enable operators to manage subscriber and service information while integrating 2G/3G/4G LTE and femtocell (licensed) networks with Wi-Fi (unlicensed) networks, to deliver seamless experiences across multiple heterogeneous access networks.

Cisco's technology innovations, deployments and industry-first solutions in small cells are expected to help operators address capacity constraints from spectrum limitations; scale coverage effectively; deliver seamless experiences across heterogeneous access networks; save on capital and operational costs, and facilitate the continuing explosion in mobile traffic, devices and new services.