Cisco is thrilled that the Wi-Fi Alliance has honored Cisco with the 2020 Industry Impact Award for outstanding contributions to regulatory changes needed to make 6 GHz spectrum available for unlicensed use, and our Distinguished Architect Stephen Orr with its 2020 Mission Specialist Award for his outstanding contributions to the WFA Security Marketing and WFA Security Technology teams.

It takes a team effort to simultaneously open the 6 GHz band for Wi-Fi use, develop the technology that will occupy the band, and make sure that technology is secure.  On behalf of everyone contributing – Government Affairs, Engineering, Sales, Compliance Certifications, and Global Communications – Cisco is thankful that our efforts will pave the way for Wi-Fi’s future and that the Wi-Fi Alliance is acknowledging our contribution. Thank you for your recognition and for your support!

Cisco has previously blogged about the regulatory process of opening the 6 GHz band for unlicensed use, and the outstanding work done by the US Federal Communications Commission, its decision-makers, and staff.  Let’s look at little bit at just a couple of innovations that this decision enables.

First, security.  Cisco’s Stephen Orr has been active in the Wi-Fi Alliance’s security activities for about six years now, the last two as Chair of the WFA Security Marketing and Security Technical groups. It’s been an enormously transformative time for those working groups, as the WFA has enabled a giant leap forward in Wi-Fi security, just in time to deploy new security technologies in the 6 GHz band.

In fact, because 6 GHz is “greenfield” spectrum, only the latest and greatest security will be deployed there.  Lesser and older forms of security will not operate at 6 GHz.  And what is the latest and greatest?

Three versions of WPA3 – one for Personal use (Wi-Fi Certified WPA3-Personal), one for Enterprise (Wi-Fi Certified WPA3-Enterprise), and a version of Enterprise that provides a consistent cryptographic strength of 192 bits for over the air encryption using AES-GCMP to protect sensitive data.  And let’s not forget Wi-Fi Certified Enhanced Open – allowing unauthenticated clients to transmit with encrypted communications in circumstances where open networks or publicly available passwords may be in use. Among the many changes represented by these four categories is this – security features that before were optional, are now mandatory.  This ensures that there is better and more consistent security for access points and client devices alike.  An example for enterprise? The mandatory use of protected management frames.

And not only are the security features of these flavors of WPA3 a great leap forward, but for these technologies the Wi-Fi Alliance is moving beyond mere interoperability testing and into conformance testing – testing to show that devices are not exhibiting bad behavior in a manner similar to what is done elsewhere in industry with Common Criteria.  Even more importantly, the WFA has committed to an ongoing set of revisions to WPA3 to ensure that security technologies continue to advance in the future.

A second innovation, Open Roaming.  Open Roaming answers the question “How can we enable a seamless mobility guest onboarding experience across the enterprise, consumer, and public markets?”  As you move from place to place, venue to venue, your Wi-Fi device should be able to connect seamlessly and securely to whatever participating Wi-Fi network is present. New spectrum at 6 GHz provides the industry a chance to dramatically improve the user experience, and Open Roaming avoid the frustration of hunting down SSIDs and, if the network is locked, passwords.

Cisco has played a key role in guiding Open Roaming toward a robust presence in the market. When fully deployed, Open Roaming will consist of a globally federated set of networks and identity providers that will seamlessly onboard users using a consistent set of standards, and with technology that allows networks to apply policies to devices.

Moreover, the new security features available in 6 GHz will make Open Roaming even more secure for users than previously – a perfect marriage of spectrum, security and user experience.  Cisco hopes industry participants will continue to embrace Open Roaming as we chart a new course in the 6 GHz band. This is yet another opportunity to take Wi-Fi to a whole new level.