Cisco rolls out Wi-Fi 6 networking stack, bets the standard will enable as much as 5G

5G business transformation gets the press, but Wi-Fi 6 may have as big of an impact a few years sooner.

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Cisco is betting that businesses will make bets on Wi-Fi 6 infrastructure ahead of 5G as both wireless technologies will enable new use cases.

While the 5G business transformation story has garnered more headlines, Wi-Fi 6, known as 802.11ax, will also have a big impact, said Greg Dorai, vice president of product management and strategy for enterprise infrastructure and solutions group.

"We are at a landmark point for mobility with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 hitting the market soon. They can change the way we run our business and the amount of traffic and things connected will explode," he said.

Meanwhile, Cisco is eyeing a campus network infrastructure upgrade cycle. Wi-Fi equipment for some enterprises was acquired in 2010 and 2011. Others have upgraded about four years ago.

To prepare, Cisco launched a series of next-generation switches, access points and controllers. Wi-Fi 6 can offer 400 percent greater capacity and operate well in dense areas such as lecture halls and stadiums. The 5G and Wi-Fi 6 tandem is likely to handle outside wireless connectivity and inside, respectively.

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Cisco, industry data

Cisco's Wi-Fi 6 stack includes:

  • Access points for Catalyst and Meraki for the Wi-Fi 6 standard. The gear includes programmable chipsets, analytics and the ability to handle multiple Internet of things protocols.
  • Core switch for campus network to combine wired and wireless connections. The Catalyst 9600 core switch family is the upgrade to the Catalyst 6000.
  • Partnerships with Samsung, Boingo, GlobalReach, Presidio and others under a project called Open Roaming. In a nutshell, Open Roaming aims to make it easier to move from Wi-Fi and mobile networks seamlessly via identity credential sharing.

Cisco said the Wi-Fi 6 stack is now available.

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As for use cases for Wi-Fi 6 there are a few takeaways to note:

  • Wi-Fi 6 will arrive before broad 5G availability so most client devices will have the standard by the end of the year. Samsung's new Galaxy S10 flagship already has Wi-Fi 6.
  • There will be smart city possibilities as 5G is rolled out. Larger urban areas can start to couple Wi-Fi 6 and 5G.
  • Cisco has had field trials with NASA, BMW, and Carnival.
  • Open Roaming may be the biggest selling point for business users as they'll be able to hop Wi-Fi networks without re-entering credentials and emails. Cisco's Open Roaming effort revolves around an identity brokering system so a traveler wouldn't have to log-in. This identity brokering system would also allow 5G and Wi-Fi 6 to be more seamless as a wireless duo. Cisco tested out the Open Roaming system at Mobile World Congress with Samsung Galaxy devices.

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