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Cisco and Apple: Understanding the Innovation

November 29, 2016 - 13 Comments

What if the world’s leading mobile devices communicated at a deeper, more trusting level with the world’s leading corporate networks? That was the question that Apple and Cisco asked themselves when they announced their new partnership last year.

Their answer: a faster, more engaging user experience for iPhone and iPad users on a Cisco Wireless network.

Over the last year, engineers at Apple and Cisco worked tirelessly, tweaking the existing standards to tackle two very important aspects of enterprise mobility: optimized Wi-Fi roaming and prioritized business applications.

When I decided to cover these innovations on TechWiseTV, I went over to building 23 on Cisco’s San Jose campus where this tight-knit group of engineers had been holed up.   This is where they continued to relentlessly test every combination of load, app, and scenario that a Cisco customer could possibly encounter.  I always assumed this kind of thing happened…but it was good to see the depth of scenario testing being done.  

To fully appreciate what these two industry leaders have accomplished, I thought it would be helpful to pull back the covers a bit, and level set on how things are usually done.  This can help highlight where and how these tweaks can improve your own enterprise experience:

Optimized Wi-Fi Roaming

Mobile isn’t mobile if you can’t work with the  same level of confidence you have with the hardwired network.   Cellular signals inside buildings can often be inconsistent, and when it comes to real-time voice and video, Wi-Fi roaming has its challenges.   

Simply walking across the office will usually involve a number of challenging hand-offs.  The transition from one access point (AP) to another involves the exchanging of several keys. And while fast, that negotiation can often take longer than the 50ms threshold required for high voice quality.

The 802.11r roaming standard goes a long way toward speeding up that authentication handshake. Unfortunately, most networks have it turned off because not all clients can associate SSIDs with 802.11r enabled, making it pretty complex to configure. (Watch our latest TechWiseTV episode to find out why.)

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In addition, how do mobile devices decide which access point to connect to as they roam?  They typically rely solely on signal strength, not which AP has better bandwidth available at that moment.  And this leads us to the next problem that Apple and Cisco solved.

Prioritization of Business apps

In most workplaces, a corporate video conference should get higher priority than bandwidth-hogging apps that are not work related. But that’s easier said than done.  We have tools for prioritizing application traffic on the LAN, and Quality of Service (QoS) on mobile devices, but up until now, there hasn’t been a good way for the network and mobile endpoints to agree on specific QoS definitions.

The tight integration between Cisco and Apple means that today, IT managers can easily turn on QoS that extends from the device, over the air, to the wireless network, ensuring that specific apps, as defined by the IT manager,  get the right priority on their network.  (In fact, be sure and catch “Enterprise Network Automation with APIC-EM” to see how EasyQoS makes policy mapping something you look forward to.)

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Transforming Business Mobility

Mobility is transforming how we get work done. But to truly transform the mobile enterprise, it takes native business applications running on the best devices over the world’s best corporate networks.

And we have the results to prove it:

  • Higher reliability for real-time apps (20% increase in audio quality)
  • Reduction in web-browsing failures (up to 90%)
  • Reduced management overhead due to fewer SSIDs  (Up to 50%)
  • Reduction in network message load from device during roaming (Up to 86%)

I encourage you to learn more by checking out our recent episode of TechWiseTV: Fast Tracking the Mobile Enterprise. In it, I talk to Cisco engineer, Jerome Henry, @wirelessCCIE about the challenges and technical underpinnings of these solutions, and how they can be easily deployed in your network.



P.S. Don’t miss our workshop on these new Apple and Cisco innovations taking place live in January.  To get reminders for these and other events from “the geeks you can trust,” follow us on Twitter @techwisetv.

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  1. Would like to hear more on what products this partnership brings, what you’ve listed above is cool, but its selling points to the engineers and techies, its nothing that execs at Apple and Cisco talk about publicly, ie its not headlines.

    Would like to see how this partnership with Apple can take someone like Huawei which now has an end to end enterprise play, including the phone and the phone tours, access points, routers and switches… one vendor one contract one sales rep..

    • Eddie, I can’t speak to the broader Cisco and Apple partnership and what that may bring…but assuming I can understand parts of your question here. This topic and the technology we are talking about is about making existing products work better together. None of the products from either company are new….and one of the hardest things about this subject is the fact that they are not outwardly ‘sexy’ to talk about. They do however, uniquely solve several real world problems. This is completely different from any competitors who might be bundling products and so forth to go to market…I don’t know what Cisco/Apple may do that way in the future. My personal opinion however is that it is not really a focus for us. In one overly-simplistic way…we are good at connecting things. Almost everything we do is about the support of enterprise grade connection/communication. I am a huge Apple fan boy…I love them for their hardware/software excellence…incredible devices and ecosystem. And when my devices connect, I prefer it be Cisco end to end.

  2. Great Video!!

    • Thank you for all the positive replies. Big kudo’s to Jerome for being one of those rare engineers who can simplify things and make them easy to understand.

  3. Good to see this collaboration. Long way to go though. This has to be seamlessly integrated with not just Apple but with all the major hardward phone manufactures , as more than half of the mobile market is captured with Android.

  4. Dear colleagues

    I love to see we have a great solution with Apple. Really cool!

    I am lacking information on this: Who at Cisco drives with Apple that we actually gets visible on IOS devices and Macs (something like “Cisco inside”, or a menu option on the end-device showing to the user he/she actually benefits from Cisco functionality?


  5. Thanks Jerome Henry and Robb Boyd for this interesting video.

  6. Great blog. Well done Jerome!

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  8. You forgot to mention that the Cisco Apple solution is a proprietary solution and creates a separat0e SSID only for Apple devices to connect to….
    So it actually increases SSIDs instead of reducing them

    • Hi Bruce,
      You do NOT need to create an additional SSID to implement this. The SSID where these features are implemented is NOT solely for Apple devices, quite the opposite. On an existing SSID, available for all devices, iOS 10 devices benefit from enhanced efficiency, while the other (non iOS devices) continue to thrive as usual.

  9. Thank you John!

  10. Love this. Quick and simple summarized explanation of Cisco-Apple partnership for a better mobile business experience.