Cisco exec. details how Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will fire-up enterprises in 2019 and beyond

Cisco’s Scott Harrell says Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will change how businesses think about wired vs. wireless networking and add new options for SD-WAN deployments.

Few technologies have the potential to shake up enterprise networks like Wi-Fi 6 and 5G technologies do in 2019 and beyond.

5G carrier-based wireless is going to start rolling out, bringing a promise of dramatically better performance to mobile workers and the enterprise, and Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) will go mainstream in 2019. Together the technologies will dramatically alter the mobile enterprise for many users and enable new use cases for wireless that weren’t possible before, said Scott Harrell, senior vice president and general manager of enterprise networking at Cisco.

For enterprise users Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will ultimately coexist, and it will be an evolving challenge to manage these separate access technologies as integrated systems with unified policy, security and analytics, Harrell said.

Cisco SVP Scott Harrell cisco

Cisco SVP Scott Harrell

In the end though that ability will make users more productive and when security is integrated as it needs to be, it will help IT deal much more effectively with the heterogenous world that has applications everywhere, he said.

“Orchestrating the management systems of these separate networks is our next frontier,” Harrell said. “That’s where we want to go.”

While it is early in the 5G and Wi-Fi 6 evolution, 2019 will see development of that integration. According to a blog post by Harrell, this year will find carrier-based mobile connectivity (LTE and 5G cellular) and unlicensed nomadic networking, Wi-Fi 6, converge in two key areas: radio signal encoding and scheduling.

Both new wireless systems use the same method to squeeze more users and data into the frequencies they use, so each base station or access point can talk to more devices simultaneously, Harrell stated.

“Also, with WiFi 6, local wireless networking gets more scheduled, deterministic use of spectrum, he stated. "Unlike other versions of Wi-Fi, which use a randomized channel access mechanism, with Wi-Fi 6, a device can rely on being able to use the radio on a particular schedule (measured by the millisecond)." Scheduled access enables lower latency, battery consumption and also allows for greater density of devices, he said.

As for the impact of Wi-Fi 6 for enterprise customers, Harrell said that combined with its reasonable cost to deploy and maintain, it will prove an ideal system for indoor wireless connectivity – especially in areas with crowded access points.

 “Users on Wi-Fi 6 devices will see improved individual experiences. People in crowded areas that have traditionally offered hit-or-miss performance (waiting rooms, student lecture halls, meeting spaces, and so on), will have better experiences,” Harrell said. 

Some devices that previously would only be connected by wired Ethernet will be able to move to wireless. “This will help drive innovation around high-bandwidth and latency-sensitive use cases that should really be untethered, like AR/VR, gaming, and video communications,” Harrell said.

As the number of performance-sensitive wireless devices goes up, enterprises will need new network intelligence to assure the best levels of service, he said.

“Specifically, Cisco believes that Wi-Fi 6 access points, and end devices themselves, must become sensors, collecting real-time performance and experience data that they stream to a new generation of analytic engines,” Harrell said. “This will allow for proactive and granular management of these increasingly complex environments.”

Harrell also says businesses can gather rich data about their facilities by tracking how Wi-Fi devices move through them.

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