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Cisco Goes Big with Wi-Fi 6

Cisco today announced a number of products aimed at reinventing the access edge -- the biggest networking launch in the company’s history, according to some of the Cisco insiders I’ve talked to about this news. Given the number of products Cisco has had over the years and its longstanding market-leading position, that’s a bold statement. But given the details, I tend to agree.
As mentioned, with these new products, Cisco wants to revamp access at the network edge. Historically, the closer to the data center, the greater the network value. That’s because data and applications resided in the data center, so enterprises did more due diligence on for those deployments. Consequently, the access edge was considered of less value, and enterprises often deployed gear from low-cost vendors.
In today’s environment, this no longer holds true. With the rise of mobile devices, Internet of Things (IoT) endpoints, and the cloud, network value has been democratized. Wired edge, wireless edge, campus core, data center -- they’re all equally valuable because data and apps can live anywhere.
This new reality requires a fundamental rethink of the access edge; it’s no longer the ugly stepchild of the data center.
To support this reinvention, Cisco is offering the following new products:
  • Wi-Fi 6 access points (APs), including the Catalyst 9100 Series APs and Meraki MR 45/55 APs. The Meraki and lower-end Catalyst APs use off-the-shelf silicon to deliver standards-based Wi-Fi 6. The higher-end Catalyst APs also include custom silicon for advanced features, such as the ability to connect to IoT endpoints using Bluetooth Low Energy, Zigbee, and Thread communications protocols. Cisco routinely comes to market with a feature set that that expands on the standard, letting customers do more with its products than they can with other products. Competitors often point to Cisco’s use of custom silicon as being proprietary, but the company always supports the industry standards while using homegrown chips to deliver advanced capabilities.
  • Catalyst 9600 Series switch, replacing the Catalyst 6000, which is the most iconic Cisco network product ever -- the flagship of the switching line for years. The Catalyst 9600 switch, designed for the campus core, is intent-based networking (IBN) ready. With the 9600, Cisco completes its IBN portfolio, which also includes the 9200/9300/9400 access switches, 9500 aggregation switch, and 9800 wireless controller. The 9600 packs a punch with more than 25 terabits per second of switching capacity and flexible Ethernet port speeds of 10/25/40/100 gigabits per second. The switch includes a custom ASIC that brings a wide range of advanced capabilities, including Flexible NetFlow, encrypted traffic analysis, encryption, and more. Much of Cisco’s recent growth has come from the refreshed product line, and the Catalyst 6000 replacement will add to that.
Beyond these products, Cisco has announced a number of new ecosystem partnerships for facilitating secure, wireless roaming. These partners, which include Boingo Wireless, Samsung, GlobalReach, and Presidio, will join the Cisco-led OpenRoaming project for enabling mobile users to move seamlessly between business Wi-Fi, cellular, and public Wi-Fi networks.
Cisco designed the new products for a world that’s wireless-first. This means people should be able to run any application, including things like virtual reality and 4K video, on Wi-Fi. Historically, this wasn’t possible, because the Wi-Fi network would get congested quickly and performance would degrade. Wi-Fi 6 incorporates many 5G features for significant improvement; Wi-Fi 6 is up to 400% faster than older versions and delivers great performance in highly dense environments such as classrooms and conference centers.
Lastly, Cisco has added a wireless development center as part of its DevNet program. Developers now have access to learning and hands-on content, a development sandbox, ecosystem exchange, API documentation, and co-creation abilities. This should give rise to new wireless applications that enable businesses to get more out of their wireless networks. This could include location-based applications, IoT services, augmented reality/virtual reality apps and more. The DevNet program lets developers jump into mobile-enabled applications with both feet.
The network has never been more important than it is today. Without it we can’t stream content, access cloud services, download information, or connect IoT devices. Cisco’s has centered its Wi-Fi 6 announcements on wireless, but has included the other components necessary for delivering a high-quality, secure experience at the access edge.