Cisco: WiFi 6 and 5G will drive network refresh

Nirav Sheth, vice president of worldwide partner sales and pre-sales engineering, Cisco

A pair of soon-to-arrive mobile network upgrades will not only change how customers think about mobility, but how they architect their networks according to Cisco and some key partners.

The twin upgrades of WiFi 6 (802.11ax) and 5G are just starting to arrive, with carriers beginning worldwide rollout of 5G networks over the next few years and Cisco and its peers in the networking game shipping WiFi 6 access points this year, and those two arrivals are going to change what companies can do in the mobile connectivity space, owing to advances in available bandwidth, greater support for density, and better device battery life, common benefits across the two types of mobile networks.

“We’re going to go from wireless being the way we live and work, to how businesses actually work. Big changes are underway,” said Greg Dorai, vice president of product management for enterprise infrastructure and solutions at Cisco. “[WiFi 6 and 5G] enable immersive experiences, enable IOT, and really goes for a world where you’re always on, including optimizing your battery life.”

Monday, the networking giant announced the launch of the Catalyst 9600 series of wireless access points, as well as similar WiFi6 from its managed networking unit, Meraki. Nirav Sheth, vice president of worldwide sales and systems engineering in Cisco’s global partner organization, places the hardware opportunity around Catalyst 9600 at $11 billion alone. But that’s not the significant figure.

Sheth said the real opportunity is around transforming the network core, as many customers will find the emergence of new mobility standards will drive new requirements for the broader network, driving a lot of services-rich broad projects for solution providers. Sheth added that partners who sell wireless and switching together of the last six quarters have seen deals expand six times compared to selling one or the other.

Neil Anderson, practice director of network solutions at Cisco partner World Wide Technology, said that the last major upgrade in Wifi was a more straightforward matter of installing new access points, but this time, the opportunity is much broader than that.

“This is going to take re-architecting the network to get more value out of it, and that’s a lot of rich consulting services,” he said.

Frank Witte, head of networking strategy for Computacenter, a German Cisco partner, said that the convergence of the two mobility standards means opportunity for partners who can successfully tell the story of bringing the two standards together in a broader next-generation mobility story.

“Mobility is a key demand for many customers across enterprise and public sector,” Witte said. “Users expect access to any application, any time, anywhere. And over time, we see more and more integration between WiFi 6 and 5G. Customers don’t care about technology; they want seamless mobile access anywhere, with corporate IT integration.”

To that point, along with the Catalyst and Meraki hardware, Cisco announced the launch of what it calls Open Roaming, a “next generation of hotspots” aiming to bring together those providing network access with those providing identity management to allow users to more seamlessly move between various WiFi networks as they move around.

Cisco’s Dorai said he expects to see the next generation of mobility play out in two waves. First, there’s the “natural refresh” that’s due as many wireless networks have not been upgraded since the launch of 802.11n years ago.

“It’s been ten years since then, and it’s due,” he said. 

The second phase will take a little longer to come around but will run a little deeper, he suggested, taking advantage of the new abilities in terms of density and IOT integration in the two new wireless standards to deliver new types of solutions.

“From a practical perspective, all vendors will have their access points and controllers out by the end of this year, and you’ll see device ecosystems also come into place over the next six to nine months,” he predicted.

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997. 

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