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Cisco touts 5 technologies that will change networking in 2019

News Analysis
Jan 11, 20196 mins

A Cisco exec says the top 5 technologies that will impact enterprise networking customers the most include Wi-Fi 6, or 802.11ax, 5G, geolocation, SD-WAN and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning for network management.

Wireless advances, software-defined WANs and intelligent network management tools are among the top technologies that will impact the networking community in 2019.

“2019 is going to be a transformative year in enterprise networking,” said Anand Oswal, senior vice president of engineering in Cisco’s Enterprise Networking Business. “Network operators will be preparing systems to support dramatically greater device density and data throughput, and they will be getting new analytics about their infrastructure use from the network itself. Network personnel will become more effective and efficient, thanks to improvements in centralized management tools and machine intelligence.”

The top 5 technologies Oswal says will affect enterprise networking customers the most are Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax), 5G, geolocation, SD-WAN and Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) for network management. 

Wi-Fi 6 will surge

In a blog detailing his 2019 predictions, Oswal said Wi-Fi 6 is an upgrade on the current highest speed Wi-Fi protocol in wide use, 802.11ac and will bring  a dramatic improvement in efficiency across all existing Wi-Fi bands, including older 2.4GHz frequencies. Wi-Fi 6 will also likely get new spectrum in the 6GHz band in 2019 or 2020, further improving its speed.

Wi-Fi 6 products expected to appear in 2019, will eventually improve the experience for almost all wireless users who will find that their devices communicate more reliably and quickly in crowded offices. Wi-Fi 6 will also support larger constellations of low-powered IoT devices using fewer access points, Oswal wrote. The reliably deterministic nature of Wi-Fi 6 combined with its speed means it should be usable for life-safety applications, such as remote surgery devices, he said.

Research from Cisco’s Visual Networking Index (VNI) predicted that broadband-speed improvements will result in increased use of high-bandwidth content and applications. The global average broadband speed continues to grow and will double from 2017 to 2022, from 39.0 Mbps to 75.4 Mbps, Cisco said. Globally, the average mobile network connection speed in 2017 was 8.7 Mbps. The average speed will more than triple to 28.5 Mbps by 2022.

The average Wi-Fi network connection speed (24.4 Mbps in 2017) will exceed 54.2 Mbps by 2022. North America will experience the highest Wi-Fi speeds, 83.8 Mbps, by 2022, Cisco said.

5G private networks

Meanwhile, in the enterprise, the impact of 5G in 2019 will be more nuanced, but it will be felt Oswal wrote. 5G fixed wireless will be a convenient option as a WAN connection for getting branch offices online. It may have the performance (high speed and low latency) to compete with wired connections.

As 5G rolls out, which will take years, it will also open up new possibilities for IoT applications, and thanks to 5G’s time-slicing technology, sensors will able to run on batteries that last for years, Oswal said.

“5G’s wireless technology will also make it into corporate local-area networks: An extension of the licensed 5G spectrum into a new, lightly licensed band, Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), will let businesses set up their own, completely private 5G data networks. For some IoT installations, this could be a compelling solution,” Oswal said.

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will coexist as critical wireless technologies for the enterprise. However, it will be a challenge at first to find ways to manage networks as users and devices move between them. The two technologies are highly complementary and will be even more so when network management tools evolve to handle them side-by-side, Oswal wrote.

Geolocation will aid ecommerce

Oswal said high-resolution geolocation based on wireless radios in mobile devices, plus data mining software, will let customers further digitize their businesses and gain insights into their customers that could be used in business-expanding applications.

A good example is in healthcare where a nurse or doctor might need to find a particular piece of equipment quickly; if all the equipment is geolocation enabled, it can be found quickly, saving time and money, Oswal said.   

Digitized spaces will help network managers because they will be able to identify areas where wireless service is weak, allowing highly precise deployment of new access points. And in security, it will be easier for analytics engines to notice unusual patterns of movement among wireless devices that could indicate physical beaches, Oswal said.

SD-WAN will drive network architecture

While wireless is obviously changing, the wide area networking arena has seen a fundamental shift in the past couple years lead primarily by SD-WAN, and 2019 will see a continuation of that trend. 

“Designing networks primarily around branch-to-data-center connections doesn’t make sense when so many business applications are now run out of the cloud, and so many end users rely on the open Internet for connection when they’re not in a company office,” Oswalt wrote. 

SD-WAN lets networks route traffic based on centrally managed roles and rules, no matter what the entry and exit points of the traffic are, and with full security. For example, if a user in a branch office is working in Office365, SD-WAN can route their traffic directly to the closest cloud data center for that app, improving network responsiveness for the user and lowering bandwidth costs for the business.

“SD-WAN has been a promised technology for years, but in 2019 it will be a major driver in how networks are built and re-built,” Oswal said. From its VNI study, Cisco says that globally, SD-WAN traffic was 9 percent of business IP WAN traffic in 2017 and will be 29 percent of business IP WAN traffic by 2022.  In addition, SD-WAN traffic will grow five-fold from 2017 to 2022, a compound annual growth rate of 37 percent.

AI/ML will help manage networks

AI and ML will significantly boost network management this year.

“In 2019, companies will start to adopt Artificial Intelligence, in particular Machine Learning, to analyze the telemetry coming off networks to see these patterns, in an attempt to get ahead of issues from performance optimization, to financial efficiency, to security,” Oswal said. 

The pattern-matching capabilities of ML will be used to spot anomalies in network behavior that might otherwise be missed, while also de-prioritizing alerts that otherwise nag network operators but that aren’t critical, Oswal said.

“We will also start to use these tools to categorize and cluster device and user types, which can help us create profiles for use cases as well as spot outlier activities that could indicate security incursions,” he said.

The first application of AI in network management will be smarter alerts that simply report on activities that break normal patterns, but as the technology advances it will react to more situations autonomously. The idea is to give customers more information so they and the systems can make better network decisions. Workable tools for this should appear later in 2019, Oswal said.