• United States
Senior Editor

Cisco, Apple team up to make iPhone 11 better for WiFi 6

News Analysis
Sep 18, 20196 mins

Apple and Cisco have been developing IT networking software since the companies partnered 2015 with an eye toward optimizing Cisco networks for iOS devices

The benefits of Apple and Cisco collaborating to make the iPhone perform better across business wireless networks will continue to grow as the iPhone 11 embraces WiFi 6.

The relationship established in 2015 is aimed at  optimizing Cisco networks for iOS devices and apps by tightly integrating Apple iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad with Cisco enterprise environments.

[Now see “How to determine if Wi-Fi 6 is right for you”]

It is a reflection of how integral mobile smartphones and other intelligent devices have become to businesses. For example Cisco says by 2022, there will be 8.4 billion handheld or personal mobile-ready devices and 111.4 exabytes of mobile data traffic will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022 compared to 13.4 exabytes in 2017, according to Cisco Visual Networking Index.  

In addition, Cisco predicts by 2022, 51 percent of total IP traffic will be Wi-Fi, andthe average Wi-Fi connection speed will be 54.2 Mbps.

Apple’s support for WiFi 6 (802.11ax) in its next iPhones could be a boon for enterprise users, experts say. That’s because in part WiFi 6 is designed for high-density public or private environments. But it also will be beneficial in internet of things (IoT) deployments, and in offices that use bandwidth-hogging applications like videoconferencing.

For its part Cisco is all in on WIFI 6.  In April the company rolled out a new family of WiFi 6-based access points (AP) for its Catalyst and Meraki portfolios.  The Cisco Catalyst 9100 family and Meraki MR 45/55 WiFi-6 access points are built on Cisco silicon and communicate via pre-802.1ax protocols. The silicon in these access points acts a rich sensor providing IT with insights about what is going on the wireless network in real-time, and that enables faster reactions to problems and security concerns, the company said.   

On top of the APs and a new 9600 switch, Cisco extended its software development community – DevNet – to offer WiFi 6 learning labs, sandboxes and developer resources. The Cisco APs are pre-standard, but other vendors including Aruba, NetGear and others are also selling pre-standard 802.11ax devices.

“Over the past year we’ve seen enterprise WLAN vendors release WiFi 6-compatible access points, creating a portfolio of WiFi 6-supported infrastructure. But, some enterprises have been waiting to adopt this WiFi 6 equipment because of the lack of client devices that support the standard,” said Brandon Butler, IDC senior research analyst, network infrastructure.

“That makes Apple’s support of WiFi 6 in the iPhone 11 a big deal for the wireless industry. Samsung’s S10 also supports WiFi 6, meaning two of the most popular phone makers in the U.S. now have WiFi 6-compatible devices.”

And Apple’s Cisco partnership will only boost WiFi 6 and the iPhone’s fundamental role in enterprise WiFi networks.

“Wi-Fi 6 allows greater density of WiFi devices, by allowing each wireless access point to support more devices simultaneously, while maintaining full performance,” wrote Scott Harrell, senior vice president and general manager of enterprise networking at Cisco in a blog outlining the company’s relationship with Apple. “WiFi 6 also allows millisecond-by-millisecond scheduling of Wi-Fi communication, improving the predictability and efficiency of data transmission, which can have a major impact on the reliability of business-critical applications,” Harrell stated.

Cisco and Apple have developed and will continue to evolve a number of software products that will work with the forthcoming Apple iOS 13 release.

For example Cisco Fast lane software lets customers prioritize Wi-Fi traffic flows based on the importance of a particular iOS app.

Fastlane gives enterprise IT a mechanism to prioritize particular traffic which becomes more important as network traffic gets denser and applications they deem critical need service access, said Cisco’s wireless CTO, Matt MacPherson. 

Another key Cisco/Apple developed technology is called Fast Transition Roaming, that lets customers using Apple devices move freely around locations that have multiple wireless access points without undue application delay or loss of connection.

There is also a Cisco DevNet Fast Lane validation service aimed at customers who want to develop their own applications. It includes a service to verify iOS app features on a Cisco infrastructure without having to spend thousands of dollars on a test bed, Cisco said.

“When an Apple device joins a network with Cisco wireless access points, they communicate about the local wireless environment so the device can quickly hop to a new AP as it moves,” Harrell wrote. “This system also pre-negotiates security keys between the device and nearby access points, smoothing the transition even more.”

In an effort to optimize and troubleshoot network performance, another Apple/Cisco jointly developed product called WiFi Analytics for iOS lets customers track network data and use that information to set baselines and more quickly spot problems as iOS devices connect and communicate,  MacPherson said.  That network data can be used locally or be utilized by Cisco’s over-arching management platform DNA Center.

Also jointly developed, the Cisco Security Connector app for iOS gives enterprise customers control over iOS connected devices by controlling access to malicious sites and cataloging device activity to more quickly spot problems. 

“The features that Cisco and Apple have developed are aimed at optimizing WiFi environments, particularly for large groups of users, which is becoming increasingly important for enterprises as more users and devices flood the network,” IDC’s Butler said. “Increased insight into what is happening in an environment is critically important for optimization and security, so the more that networking vendors and device manufacturers can share information, the better it is for operators.”

“In terms of what’s still needed, more broadly there are efforts in the industry to improve the handoff and joint management of cellular and WiFi connections, which will be important for enabling additional Private LTE, CBRS and eventually 5G use cases in the enterprise.”

Most of the major enterprise WLAN vendors who have supported WiFi 6 have created additional enhancements beyond those enabled by the new standard, and each are doing so in different ways, Butler said.

“One of the ways Cisco is differentiating is through its partnership with Apple. Other vendors like Aruba have partnerships with companies like Siemens to enable support for IoT devices,” Butler said.  “I expect wireless vendors to continue to explore partnerships across the industry to ease management of enterprise networks and optimize the end user experience.”