We’ve come to expect that our mobile devices are always connected to our favorite applications and data sources via Wi-Fi and LTE. As enterprises move more resources to multiple domains—data center, campus, branch edge, and mobile cellular—always-available wireless connectivity for devices is not just a convenience, it’s essential for keeping business operations running. With many business processes dependent on cloud data storage and processing, there is no tolerance for network latency, congestion, or down-time from maintenance upgrades. Waiting for applications to respond because of overloaded Access Points (APs) hinders employee productivity and degrades customers’ experience. The explosive growth of IoT devices is adding yet another layer of complexity for ubiquitous Wi-Fi connectivity at a scale that will only grow over time.

To meet the demand for always-available connectivity for business and personal applications—especially those using rich, visual content—organizations will rely on the new Wi-Fi 6 standard for campus and intra-branch connectivity and LTE/5G for mobile and field connections to enterprise resources. The new technologies and improvements in Wi-Fi 6 are one reason we re-engineered Cisco Aironet Access Points, creating the new Catalyst 9100ax AP and the Catalyst 9800 series wireless controllers with augmented Wi-Fi 6 capabilities to provide always-available wireless connectivity coupled with always on-guard security for a multi-domain world of data and applications.

Always Available Wireless Connectivity for Campus and Branch

The art of designing, installing, and tuning the wireless fabric for campus and branch sites has been a challenge for IT, from complex enterprises with sophisticated IT staff to small businesses with one astute techy. Cisco’s next generation wireless access points (APs) and controllers are designed to help the spectrum of organizations deploy and manage the wireless infrastructure to maintain always-available connectivity for high-density and high-definition collaboration. Cisco next generation wireless access points are designed for simplicity without compromise.

In addition to existing Cisco wireless innovations, such as CleanAir and Flexible Radio Assignment interference mitigation, which go beyond the Wi-Fi 6 standard, the new access points in the Cisco AP families have several new features that enable them to be always available to handle persistent connectivity. For example, Catalyst APs and wireless controllers can be patched and upgrade with software using a new feature called In Service Software Upgrades (ISSU), which provides rolling upgrades to APs to ensure continuous connectivity within groups of APs. In addition, devices stay consistently connected with stateful switchover (SSO) to prevent any downtime of the wireless network.

The new Catalyst 9100 APs and Catalyst 9800 series wireless controllers are Wi-Fi 6 compatible, providing faster data transmission speeds in higher density device environments. As the Wi-Fi 6 standard becomes final in late 2019, a software update for Catalyst wireless controllers and APs will bring full compatibility for next generation wireless devices, protecting your investments in networking gear.

Since there will be millions of devices that use Wi-Fi 5 (ac) and earlier versions in use for the foreseeable future, backward compatibility is an absolute necessity for all new Wi-Fi 6 access points and wireless controllers. Cisco APs provide time slices to communicate with Wi-Fi 6 devices and those using earlier versions, to provide a fair distribution of resources among a range of personal and IoT devices in both 2.4 and 5 GHz bands. For example, existing IoT devices can continue to connect seamlessly to a mix of new Catalyst Wi-Fi 6 APs and older APs. As the proportion of new Wi-Fi 6 capable devices increases in the coming years, the Catalyst 9120 APs can be switched to operate with dual 5 GHz radios, increasing the transmission capacity to support the proliferation of bandwidth-hungry applications.

Improve Power Efficiency and Network Capacity for Mobile and IoT Devices

Internet of Things deployments are accelerating as enterprises add sensors to every part of the organization to measure, monitor, and analyze business processes and customer trends. Many IoT devices use various types of wireless connectivity such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), Zigbee, or Thread. To support heterogeneous IoT deployments, the new Cisco APs are “multilingual” with radios that support all four mediums, optimized to support massively scalable multi-client devices.

While needing consistent and pervasive connectivity, both wireless mobile devices and many IoT sensors have, by their compact nature, limited battery life. Thus a challenge for Wi-Fi 6 access points is to minimize radio connectivity when not needed in order to maximize battery life. An important power saving feature in Wi-Fi 6 that’s built into Cisco APs is a Target Wake Time (TWT) mechanism. TWT enables each device to negotiate with APs to set how long the device will sleep between transmissions. At the end of a sleep period, the IoT device wakes up and waits for a trigger frame from the AP that enables the device to exchange data. Using a regular sleep cycle conserves power for individual devices and frees up channels for transmissions among other devices.

Wi-Fi 6 also enables BSS (Basic Service Set) Coloring where each BSS is assigned a different color that is used to differentiate frames from multiple APs. Accordingly, access behavior of Wi-Fi devices changes based on the color of the AP they are communicating with, which in turn increases the capacity of APs operating in dense networks.

Digitizing Physical Spaces with Improved AP Hyperlocation Radios

Speaking of IoT sensors, Wi-Fi 6 APs will bring additional hyperlocation capabilities to physical spaces. Cisco DNA Spaces will take advantage of the multi-lingual radios in the advanced APs to detect and track devices using the variants of Wi-Fi as well as BLE, Zigbee, and Thread. The improved hyperlocation antennas in the new Catalyst APs can sense and track devices and tags with a higher degree of accuracy, usually within less than 3 meters using Wi-Fi and BLE signals. Even greater location accuracy is available with Cisco’s innovative RF fingerprinting built into a full-spectrum analyzer chip in the Catalyst 9120. With these innovations, the new Catalyst APs improve granular accuracy when locating devices, and help preserve battery life for IoT beacons and tags when using Wi-Fi 6’s TWT.

Always On-Guard Security Protects Data, Devices, and People

With thousands of wireless mobile and IoT devices online, exchanging sensitive data and accessing business-critical applications, security of data in transit over wireless networks is a paramount concern for every organization. Working in conjunction with Cisco DNA Center, the 9100 generation of APs and Wireless Controllers tackle security at multiple fronts: Air, Devices, and People.

For over-the-air traffic, a combination of software-defined radios incorporating custom ASIC RF spectrum analysis, Cisco CleanAir, and Wireless Intrusion Detection features secure traffic flowing over the wireless network as well as protect devices from infection. The network is on-guard against rogue AP intrusions using detection and prevention methods provided by the Radio Fingerprinting technology embedded in the APs. CleanAir technology continuously analyses RF signals to identify clients and other APs, reporting telemetry to Cisco DNA Center, Identity Services Engine (ISE), and DNA Assurance.

To provide enhanced security, the new Catalyst APs feature zero-impact telemetry and intelligent capture. Zero impact is made possible by using a separate custom processor to offload the telemetry capture and transmission to Cisco DNA Center for additional analysis and use in Cisco DNA Assurance. The archive of collected telemetry enables IT engineers to view historical trends to pinpoint random network faults using Cisco DNA Assurance. Even encrypted traffic is analyzed with machine learning techniques to uncover abnormal patterns in traffic that reveal suspected malware hidden in the streams.

To ensure that Cisco APs and wireless controller only run versions of IOS-XE or AireOS that are certified by Cisco and are untampered with since release, a built-in Trust Anchor module (TAm) and secure boot process guards each device from loading altered or infected software images. The built-in trustworthy components prevent tampering with software and hardware delivered to customers. Learn more about Cisco trustworthy systems.

Wi-Fi 6 is Ready to Revolutionize Campus and Branch Wireless Networks

There’s no doubt that Wi-Fi 6 will provide a foundation for a new generation of interactive applications and devices that will depend on always available connections with very low latency, even in high density environments. Preparing your campus and branches now for tomorrow’s applications and devices means upgrading core network systems to handle the additional traffic and latency requirements, replacing Access Points with Wi-Fi 6-compatible units, and upgrading network operating systems to bolster security and traffic management capabilities.

As Wi-Fi 6 radios and chips begin shipping in laptops, mobile devices, and IoT equipment, the campus and branch networks—both wired and wireless—will need to absorb the additional traffic and protect data and devices with always on-guard security. The Cisco software-defined architecture for intent-based networking is ready to support the next generation of applications and devices that will arrive with Wi-Fi 6. Today, the latest in wireless technology is ready to provide a new foundation in preparation for the future of business.

Attend Cisco Live! San Diego to learn more about Wi-Fi 6 and many other topics that are critical to the future of digital businesses. Join me at my innovation talk “Reinventing Access in a Multi-Domain World” on June 12th@ 10:30AM.

Cisco Catalyst 9100 Wi-Fi 6 Access Point
Cisco Catalyst 9100 Wi-Fi 6 Access Point

Catalyst 9800 Series Wireless Controller



Anand Oswal

No Longer with Cisco