Anand Bhaskar, managing director, service providers, Cisco India and SAARC

The advent of the 5G era has ushered in a tectonic shift in the Indian telecom landscape with service providers looking to become digital value providers. Companies such as Cisco are enabling this transformation by helping service providers build their networks through services and solutions suitable for the next-generation technology world. In an interview with, Anand Bhaskar, managing director, service providers, Cisco India and SAARC, discusses the company’s focus areas, its future plans, and the evolving 5G ecosystem. Excerpts…

What are the company’s key focus areas for the year 2021?

Today, businesses, big and small, are accelerating their digital agendas. There is a rising demand for everything-as-a-service consumption models, where everything is software-driven and delivered. In response to this, we are accelerating the transition of the majority of our portfolios so that they can be delivered as services. We are also focusing on four key customer priorities:

  • Reimagining applications: Companies must reimagine how they design, develop and deploy their applications for an optimised and consistent experience. According to reports, over 500 million new applications will be developed over the next three years. It is an amazing opportunity to capture.
  • Empowering teams: The future of work is hybrid, and companies have to empower their teams to collaborate seamlessly and securely from anywhere and on any device. According to a Cisco survey, in APAC, 95 per cent expect to work from home at least a few days in a month, and over 67 per cent expect to be working from home for eight days or more per month even after offices reopen.
  • Transforming infrastructure: In this connected world, network is the nervous system that allows everything to work together. And while it has created limitless possibilities, it has also introduced complexities. So, businesses have to transform their infrastructure with the network at its core.
  • Secure data: Last but not least, security has always been critical to our customers, and it has become even more complex. In the digital normal, data security will be a top priority, as remote workers using their own unsecured devices from their own home networks have expanded the attack surface exponentially.

To make this happen, we are focusing on six key areas:

  • Building secure, agile networks
  • Helping our customers optimise their application experience
  • Defining and delivering the future of work
  • Delivering an architecture that will build the internet of the future
  • Evolving our strategy and security to truly leverage the end-to-end capabilities that are unique to Cisco, and delivering a robust, end-to-end security architecture for our customers
  • Delivering capabilities at the edge, as workloads and apps move closer to where data is created next.

What opportunities has the new work-from-home scenario opened up for Cisco? How is the company planning to leverage them?

We have witnessed a huge spike in the demand for cloud-based collaboration, security and productivity tools to ensure business continuity, as businesses are now taking the opportunity to reinvent their models for a more connected, automated, data-intensive and distributed future.

In the collaboration space, our portfolio is at the centre of our customers’ strategies for empowering teams and increasing productivity securely. To power the hybrid work model, we recently announced a wave of Webex innovations to transform employee and customer experience.

Moreover, with the world becoming more connected and digitalised by the day, safeguarding our employees, customers and assets requires data privacy and security to be a top priority because the attack surface has become more complex. Our security strategy is focused on delivering an effective cybersecurity architecture combining network-cloud- and endpoint-based solutions. We recently introduced Cisco SecureX, a broad cloud-based security platform, to provide unified visibility and automation across applications, the network, endpoints and the cloud.

Meanwhile, the explosion of bandwidth demands puts a significant stress on network capacity, forcing organisations to deploy SD-WAN and secure access server edge (SASE), as it enables networks to access cloud workloads and SaaS applications securely. The Cisco SD-WAN solution offers a complete SD-WAN fabric with centralised management and security built-in, creating a secure overlay WAN architecture across campuses, branches, data centres and multicloud applications.

And today, the internet has become the new network – it is the core of everything we do, starting from how we work, communicate, shop, consume and connect. Recognising the need for a robust, secure, next-generation network infrastructure, we are focusing on building the internet of the future. Our network architecture is centred on silicon, optics and software, called Silicon One. This first-of-its-kind programmable networking chip is designed to provide significant performance, bandwidth, power efficiency, scalability and flexibility.

How is the enterprise connectivity space evolving in India? What strategies is Cisco adopting to fulfil the connectivity needs of enterprises?

As enterprises become more distributed and amp up the virtualisation of their processes and workflow, they will increasingly become a significant market for telecom service providers. Enterprises that constitute a quarter of telecom service providers’ revenue will be a major contributor over the next few years. According to Gartner, by 2023, over 60 per cent of enterprises will deem networking as the core of their digital strategies, up from less than 20 per cent today. Unlike last year, companies are not only enabling work from home but also converting their employees’ homes into enterprise-grade, secure workplace environments to emerge as future-ready organisations.

5G will create a new set of offerings for enterprises, which means a tremendous opportunity for service providers. Cisco is well positioned to help service providers provide new offerings for enterprise clients in the 5G era, including managed SD-WAN services, managed collaboration services, managed security services, and more.

What are your views on the evolving 5G landscape? What role is Cisco playing in global 5G roll-outs? How do you plan to tap opportunities in the Indian 5G space?

If 4G was about speeds and feeds, 5G would be about creating experiences and opening up a world of opportunities for telecom service providers, enabling them to become digital value providers.

5G will allow companies to truly leverage technologies such as IoT, AI, AR/VR, and private LTE to support Industry 4.0. For small and medium enterprises, 5G can help establish an improved online experience to serve customers and reach a larger, diverse and remote consumer base unhindered by location.

At Cisco, we are already working towards helping service providers get their networks 5G-ready by building the internet of the future. We have over 125 active engagements with global customers on 5G, and close to 50 service providers actively test and deploy our 5G offering – Cisco 5G Now solutions. We are working with them on architectural designs, providing packet core technology, and we expect to see a more significant impact from 5G as the number of users and devices begins to increase. Globally, we have committed $5 billion in funding to help build 5G networks over the next three years to support our customers in accelerating their 5G deployments.

How has the technology landscape for Indian telecom operators changed over the past few years? How do you see it evolving in the coming years?

In the past few years, the telecom industry has evolved dramatically amid the changing technology landscape, innovative service delivery models, evolving consumer behaviour, and regulatory requirements from various regulatory agencies. Today, networks are supporting explosive growth in traffic volume, connected mobile, and IoT devices. They are also generating massive amounts of data that exceeds the ability of human operators to manage alone in a timely manner.

According to Gartner, approximately 70 per cent of data centre networking tasks are performed manually, which increases time, cost and the likelihood of errors and reduced flexibility. Innovations in the area of software-defined networking and intent-based networking, virtualisation and programmability, and open platform controllers are making automation a reality in networks today. Automation, AI, multicloud networking, wireless, and network security will power the biggest wave of network transformation seen in decades.

What are the company’s future plans/strategies for the next three years? What will be the key growth drivers for the company’s operations in India?

In India, we are engaged in a 360-degree partnership with all leading telecom service providers to help prepare their networks for 5G by enabling an open, intelligent and secure network platform, help them digitalise their operations and engage in their go-to-market motion to win in the SMB and enterprise space.

We believe that Cisco today is at the centre of our customers’ digital transformation – more agile and innovative than ever before. We are committed to building an inclusive future for India by bringing the benefits of technology to everyone.

We are bringing in technology innovations, including bandwidth scale, density, energy efficiency, software modularity, open architectures with zero touch, and zero trust networks to help this digital ecosystem thrive. We believe that infrastructure modernisation, workplace transformation and 5G will be the key growth drivers for Cisco in the low-touch economy.