Cisco today released a series of new access points and core switches for WiFi 6 that it hopes will drive further adoption of the burgeoning standard as a complementary technology to 5G cellular networks.
“Cisco is really focused on bringing 5G and WiFi 6 together as complementary technologies to enable this seamless connectivity between a cellular and wireless network no matter where the user is and what the user experience needs to be,” said Prashanth Shenoy, vice president of marketing for enterprise networks, IoT, and developer platforms at Cisco.
“We strongly believe that 5G and WiFi 6 will play a key role in working together rather than overlapping,” he explained in a phone interview with SDxCentral. “5G will be fixed for mobile networking in outdoor environments and it will usher in new things that are in pilot deployments right now … whereas WiFi 6 will play a very fundamental role in indoor connectivity for immersive experiences and high-density environments.”
Cisco’s new WiFi 6 access points for its Catalyst and Meraki portfolios include programmable chipsets, access to analytics, and support for multiple IoT protocols. The Catalyst 9600 core switch family, which is designed for campus networks, provides a single networking fabric to bring wired and wireless functionalities together in multi-domain business networks.
“One of the biggest advantages of WiFi 6 is capacity for providing these high-density experiences. It provides up to 4x more capacity,” Shenoy said. “You’ll see more and more IoT devices and mobile devices primarily using WiFi only.”
WiFi 6 Plays Nice With 5G
WiFi 6, also known as 802.11ax, requires new chipsets to be embedded in devices to achieve higher capacity and lower latency. While some vendors are rushing to get those chipsets in devices, others will come much later and at least wait for the technology to be standardized. “WiFi 6 as a standard itself is close to being ratified and we envision it to be fully ratified by IEEE standards by October,” Shenoy said.
Nonetheless, Cisco is optimistic about the opportunities for WiFi 6 in the near term and expects massive proliferation to reach clients by early 2020. Cisco plans to upgrade its new access points and core switches to the standard via software updates when the standard is ratified.
WiFi 6 is also the first iteration of WiFi to work more seamlessly and intelligently with cellular networks, according to Shenoy. When 4G LTE and WiFi 5 came along “there wasn’t anything around the technology or the vendors and infrastructure providers that did something special to make these work together, so that was lacking,” he said.
The Cisco-led OpenRoaming project aims to solve those issues by making it easier to seamlessly jump between WiFi and cellular networks with no impact on the user or application. “Because we can have a single place to exchange identity … you’ll be automatically on boarded without having to type in your service set identifier (SSID), or your room number, or your pass code,” Shenoy said.
“5G and WiFi 6 use similar technology in terms of data encoding and scheduling of data,” he explained. “Cellular is very deterministic and WiFi wasn’t,” but “with the technology capabilities now in 5G and WiFi 6 using similar radio scheduling and data encoding” there are new similarities in how the respective technologies determine capacity and performance.
Early adopters of WiFi 6 will include businesses that need to deliver immersive experiences and performance in high-density environments such as hospitals, schools, venues, and retail stores, according to Shenoy.