Turning Promise into Reality with iOS 10

September 13, 2016 - 24 Comments

A year ago, Apple and Cisco announced a partnership to transform business through mobility. Lofty goal to be sure. Since then we’ve been hard at work behind the scenes. Over the summer, more than 30 customers and partners — ranging from BT (UK) and DT (Germany), to KDDI (Japan) and IAG (Australia) — participated in early field trials to help us refine our solution.

As the head of engineering for enterprise networking at Cisco, I’m especially proud of what my team has accomplished. We’ve worked together with Apple so that with iOS 10, iOS devices and Cisco network can recognize each other, similar to a handshake, which then turns on Wi-Fi optimization and prioritization for business critical apps. (The third iOS 10 feature enables Cisco Spark to provide a first-class voice and video calling experience on iOS devices. and Jonathan Rosenberg goes into details here).

So let’s get into the details. What exactly have we been up to over the last year.

Optimizing Wi-Fi connectivity:

Our challenge was to deliver intelligent and efficient roaming for iOS devices, giving apps the best connection. And that’s exactly what we’ve done. Let me explain.

Let’s say you connect your iPad to the Wi-Fi network, get on a WebEx meeting and start walking. On most networks, a mobile device will connect to the AP with the strongest signal. Then when the AP signal becomes too poor to maintain a connection, your mobile device will scan all channels (up to 25 of them!) in search of the next strongest signal for that SSID.

WiFi Optimization Visual

Now, as iOS devices connect to a Cisco enterprise wireless network, our AP uses 802.11k to provide a list of the top six neighboring APs. Your roaming iPhone only has to check up to six channels, saving the time and battery. Even better, as your iPhone gets to the edge of the cell, we check its location and use 802.11v to provide a short list with the next best AP, based on signal and utilization. As a result, your iPhone will connect to the less busy access point offering the best signal, maximizing the network connection speed and performance.

Finding the next AP is great, but jumping to that AP may take time if you need to negotiate security parameters. 802.11r solves that issue by providing fast security negotiation and fast roaming. The problem is that most networks do not implement 802.11r (some old devices do not react well to 802.11r, and not all networks implement new features). So we also solved that problem by enabling a sort of handshake with iOS 10 devices. We recognize each other and we turn on 802.11r selectively for your iOS 10 iPhone or iPad, even if the SSID did not explicitly enable 802.11r. That means the device will roam quickly and seamlessly from access point to access point. Apps perform faster, and VoIP calls stay on the line.

The network does the heavy lifting, configuring all these capabilities by default, making it even easier for IT to deploy advanced features. 

Prioritizing business apps:

But that’s just the beginning. We’re also helping you prioritize apps that are most important to your business.

Business networks have a wide range of content on their networks and not all of it has the same importance. Typically, apps are given the same level of priority whether they’re business apps such as voice, video conferencing, messaging, and document sharing apps — or if they’re games, movies, and social media apps. As a result, apps that are important to your business end up sharing the same network resources with non-business apps, bogging down your work experience.

You can configure QoS on your infrastructure of course, and that’s great, but until now you could not control the ‘last mile’: the link from your client to the AP. Now you can. With iOS 10, we’ve improved the app experience on a Cisco network to ensure that even if the wireless network is congested with different app traffic, we can use new capabilities in iOS and the Cisco Wi-Fi network to prioritize the most critical apps and data over noncritical apps.

IT managers are empowered to simply “white list” or select the apps they want to prioritize over the regular traffic with a simple configuration profile provisioned to the iOS device. When you mark apps for priority, you put the apps that are most critical for your business in the Fast lane.

When your iOS device joins a Cisco network, the AP activates the profile on the device. Apps in the Fast lane get prioritized. Even better: the profile is SSID-specific. You can have different profiles and different white lists, depending on whether you are on the office network, at school, at home, or somewhere else. For the first time, your network QoS matches the client QoS. Same view of what apps matter most, same efficiency. So when a user is on a Spark call, their conversation does not get choppy even if there is another wireless user loading the network with a non-work related video streaming app.

App Prioritization Visual

All just one software update away…

Sounds cool, right? And our tests reveal that once again promise meets reality. These new environments deliver the following benefits based on the internal tests that Apple and Cisco have conducted together:

  • up to 8 times faster roaming
  • 90 percent reduction in web browsing failures
  • up to 66 percent more reliable calling
  • management overhead can be reduced by 50 percent.

For many of you all of these amazing features are just one iOS update away. Wi-Fi optimization and app prioritization are already available in Cisco AireOS WLC 8.3. Cisco Meraki started supporting these features with a new MR firmware rolled out to customers in October and November.

Sound interesting? We have some other exciting innovation in the hopper. But we’d also be interested in hearing your ideas. Pop your thoughts into the comments and I’ll make sure to read them all!

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  1. Where can we find the whitelist applications that are automatically enabled? The fear is that Apple will prioritize their apps like say Airplay/ITunes and your existing AVC policy may be rate limiting those apps. If FastLane is enabled, you will overwrite your tags. It is hard to find which apps are priotitzed and that needs to be publicly available.

    • Hi Ray,
      No app is automatically or forcefully enabled. You (or your IT) have the full control to select which of the iOS apps are critical to your business and you would want to whitelist for Fast lane. The easiest way to select those apps is to create a configuration profile using the MDM platform you run in your organization and push that configuration profile to your managed devices. If you use Meraki Systems Manager as your MDM platform, you can also select to Whitelist Apple audio/video calling.
      Your AVC profile will likely reflect your Fastlane profile configuration. On the Wireless LAN controller, the AVC profile can override the marking or allocate bandwidth limitation for targeted apps, independently from the Fastlane profile enabled on the iOS client.

  2. Reviewing the release notes for 8.3 firmware requirement on the WLC, this config change:
    Limits video bandwidth to 35 percent if video bandwidth is greater than 35 percent.

    So does this config do anything to facetime ? Meaning, is facetime considered video ??

  3. Hi,

    Good to hear what about Mac’s? Do we get this as part of Sierra?

  4. This innovation is quite exciting, but it would be great if Cisco could also partner with Google to deliver these enhancements to Android (unless Android already implements most of this and works fine as is?)

  5. Well done to Cisco and Apple; this is one of the biggest innovation and this will make iPhone, iPad the best products in the world and obvious Cisco the best Network ever. I am proud to be a Cisco Engineer.

  6. Good & Great work !

  7. Good job!! Congrats for this new innovation
    All the best

  8. There are no features left behind…well thought, well done. Thank you for sharing this detailed post.

  9. Sounds like a clear game changer ! with this change, I am sure we should be seeing lot more happy customers !

  10. Great Job!

    Curious how all this translates to public perception and traction — as I have not heard or read any of these awesome features/improvements mentioned in the advertising or press related to the release of iOS10.

  11. These features sound great, is there a software release coming for the Cisco 5760 WLCs?

  12. I wonder if the Macbook supports 802.11k, v and r as well…

  13. The app prioritization functionality sounds very intriguing. Sounds like it is based on 802.11e. Is there more innovation behind it as well?

    • Hi John – 802.11e defines the 8 WiFi QoS queues. The app prioritization does much more. It allows the admin to define which application can use these queues, dynamically as you join a new WiFi network. This is an exciting innovation, because you can now make sure that business-relevant apps use the right priority without having to compete with personal applications for the same priority access.

  14. Great collaboration with Apple. On a given iOS device, who is in control of configuring the “whitelist” of high priority apps? If the end user is in control, then I can imagine a situation where malicious users can put every app on the whitelist and get preferential treatment. Of course, this assumes that the network bandwidth is disproportionally divided among the most hungry users.

    • Hi Amitabha – in a controlled environment, the Device Manager or admin controls the profile, not the user. The profile often also has security configurations as well. However, the purpose of app prioritization is to provide a better experience, not to prevent illegitimate abuse of the Wi-Fi network.

  15. Great work. I would love to see this carried over to Android to further facilitate control over AP QoS for employees connecting with non iOS devices. I really like enhanced AP control this gives.

  16. Congratulations. This is excellent work that can only be deliver when you bring these two companies innovation together.

  17. Great work!

  18. Very good features for business apps, but what about devices that cannot be upgraded to iOS 10? One of our apps is widely used by many customers within their corporate WiFi on iPod touch 5th gen that cannot be upgraded to iOS 10. Would like to know what Cisco APs have to offer for such “iOS 9 only” devices. Any recommendations or directions would be useful.

  19. Jeff, this is fantastic. Looking forward to seeing what we can do with this with APIC-EM and Nectar Evolution.

  20. Congrats on the great work, Jeff and team. An exciting milestone in BYOD and productivity!