If you have had the opportunity to read my recent blog series on The Future of Work, you know that Cisco is all in on enabling organizations of all sizes and industries to prepare for a hybrid work model. We recognize that the future of work will embrace a workforce that can connect fluidly from anywhere at any time, with access to the applications and services they need to be successful while making their jobs safe and creative. Cisco innovations empower IT to make hybrid work … work, and power a more productive, sustainable, and inclusive future for all. This month, Cisco is releasing several technology enhancements to our Secure Access Platform that will help IT improve the campus experience to support hybrid work from the office.

  • Cisco Catalyst and Meraki wireless access solutions for Wi-Fi 6 and 6E to connect to new bandwidth-hungry immersive collaborative applications with high Quality of Experience
  • Dedicated Meraki environmental sensors and integrated sensors in Catalyst Access Points monitor spatial characteristics like occupancy and air quality, reporting in real-time to Cisco DNA Spaces, enabling Health and Safety teams to support the wellbeing of the workforce
  • Cisco Catalyst 9000X with SiliconOne MGig port configurations, provides an upgraded backbone to support bandwidth-consuming and latency-dependent applications the workforce will be relying on with their Wi-Fi devices
  • Energy-efficient Universal Power over Ethernet (UPoE) technologies in Catalyst 9000 switches that energize and manage IoT and OT infrastructure to make buildings smarter, more manageable, and lower their carbon footprint
  • Continuous zero-trust security that enables seamless and secure onboarding of people and their devices over any connection
  • Private 5G as a Service provides flexibility for deploying latency-sensitive applications in environments not ideal for pure Wi-Fi access, to support of Industry 4.0 endeavors.

These new capabilities are all designed to support the future of hybrid work and the mission-critical applications that will power the organizations for the next decades. Let’s dive deeper into reimagining hybrid workplace where the workforce creates, manages, and collaborates using the network of the future.

Revving Up for the Wi-Fi 6/6E Revolution

Wi-Fi 6E represents the next big step in wireless with newly available, clean spectrum in the 6 GHz band that unlocks the capacity, performance, and reliability needed to deliver the mission-critical hybrid work experiences of today and tomorrow. With 6E-capable devices, the workforce can experience a wired-like performance across the campus, with gigabit speeds and greater throughput.

The Catalyst 9136 and Meraki MR57 are designed to be the 6E hubs powering smarter workplaces. In addition to 6/6E Wi-Fi, they have the built-in flexibility to connect IoT devices via USB, Thread, and BLE. And they’re perfectly suited to support bandwidth-hungry, low latency, applications such as AR, VR, streaming video, and holographic WebEx experiences.

The Catalyst 9136 Access Point is an enterprise-class AP designed for large scale deployments.

  • Built-in Environmental Sensors. A new Cisco-only feature added to new Wi-Fi 6E access points, they measure temperature, air quality and humidity. In addition to the data that it provides about the environment, it also avoids constraint of an overlay network. In other words, IT does not have to deploy two devices—the Catalyst 9136 does the job of both.
  • Power Management. Here the access point will automatically change its power consumption reflecting the current load. With Smart AP Catalyst Power Management feature, if there is a small enough number of clients, the access point will automatically reduce the radio stream count, saving power and automatically optimizing radio configurations across the entire network.
  • Band Steering. Using a software-defined Radio Resource Management (RRM) capability, the APs can optimize the use of the available spectrum for the best Wi-Fi performance by automatically routing Wi-Fi 6E devices to the 6 GHz band, freeing the 2.4 and 5 GHz bands for IoT and legacy devices.
  • CleanAir Pro. Delivering silicon-level intelligence to create a spectrum-aware, self-healing, and self-optimizing wireless network that mitigates the impact of wireless interference in all Wi-Fi bands, including 6 GHz.

The Meraki MR57 Access Point is designed specifically for the rigors of a highly dynamic hybrid workforce. The new AP combines the speed, power, and security of a high-end 6E access point with the streamlined management of the Meraki Cloud-Managed Dashboard. Designed for next-generation deployments in offices, schools, hospitals, retail shops, and hotels, the MR57 offers high throughput, WPA3 enterprise-grade security, and scalable cloud-based management. With a flexible tri-band radio that can operate in a 2.4/5/5 GHz or 2.4/5/6 GHz mode, the MR57 gives network teams total control over their wireless network, scaling capacity intelligently as 6E clients become more prevalent in the hybrid workplace.

Deployments of the MR57 are managed through the Meraki platform, a cloud-managed dashboard that enables rapid deployment and intelligent optimization across highly distributed networks. Enterprise IT teams can leverage the power of the Meraki platform to proactively optimize network performance end-to-end, automate enterprise-scale Wi-Fi operations, and intelligently plan the future of their wireless architectures, based on the performance of over 3M unique networks around the world.

Cisco uses the power of AI to deliver the best possible experience for mobile devices. To understand device capabilities and maximize performance, we use Machine Learning and AI to auto-label devices with perfect accuracy and integrity because classification data is reported by the client devices themselves. Apple and Samsung devices, and Windows Laptops with Intel Wi-Fi, share their device profiles with Cisco DNA Center and Meraki Dashboard without a need for any agents on the devices. This unique level of visibility and insights provides an unprecedented level of insight to optimize the performance and application experience.

Maintaining Safe, Secure, and Efficient Hybrid Workplaces

To safely manage the hybrid workplace, IT and OT teams need visibility into building occupancy and environmental quality. The network collects Wi-Fi data, environmental data, and location services by taking full advantage of Wi-Fi 6/6E and sensors in the Meraki and Catalyst platforms. For example, the Right Now app in Cisco DNA Spaces provides metrics on how many people are currently in a location and sends alerts when a location is over capacity. Density is monitored based on people’s devices connecting to Catalyst or Meraki Wi-Fi networks, Bluetooth devices, RFID tags, and Meraki cameras. Meraki cameras also provide footfall analysis, enabling additional insights into the number of people currently in a space and over a timespan. The Engagements application sends notifications about real time occupant density and safety status to employees and visitors via Cisco Webex, SMS, email, or an API trigger.

A smart building infrastructure enhances sustainability as well as workplace safety. A key to managing IoT and OT devices with efficiency is deploying Power over Ethernet (PoE) from switches to endpoints. Using Cisco Catalyst switches to power lighting, sensors, window shades and many other devices, organizations can reduce the energy wasted by converting AC to DC at thousands of endpoints and eliminate many cable runs. Advanced Power Analytics capabilities provided by Cisco DNA Center gives IT and OT teams access to comprehensive, real-time data on the overall PoE utilization and system power consumption of the network and devices, to enable monitoring, modification, and management based on detailed insights.

Cisco Secure Access Stack
Cisco Secure Access Stack

Securing the Hybrid Workforce and IoT Devices

The hybrid workplace is, by definition, a heterogeneous mix of people working in various locations with device types like corporate-issued laptops but also with BYOD phones and tablets. Add the rapidly increasing number of IoT and OT devices to the mix and IT has their hands overly full with managing access permissions and monitoring for intrusions.

Traditionally, identity and segmentation were the only tools to secure managed endpoints. Today, security platforms such as Cisco’s SD-Access Zero Trust solution for the workplace, automates the management all types of endpoints. Cisco AI Trust Analytics provides complete endpoint visibility and analytics as well as continuous trust assessment for everyone and everything. It detects traffic from endpoints that are exhibiting unusual behavior by pretending to be trusted endpoints using MAC Spoofing, Probe Spoofing, or Man-in-the-Middle techniques. When these types of anomalies are detected, Trust Analytics lowers the trust score for the endpoint to limit or completely deny access to the network. And it’s all automated, relieving IT of a significant burden of maintaining access lists and monitoring for rogue devices.

Delivering Speed at Scale in the Core

When the increased bandwidth and scale you supplied to your wireless network reaches the Core of your network, the new Catalyst 9500X fixed core switches and new modular core Cisco Catalyst 9600X SUP-2 and 2nd generation line cards are built to handle high-bandwidth, low-latency workloads. These are the first campus switches in the industry to supply dual-rate 400G/200G uplinks. With that amount of bandwidth, you could have 80,000 simultaneous HD video streams running–impressive since that is 5x the size of the whole Netflix catalogue.

Now for the first time, IT can use an access switch for high-speed IPSec access to public cloud and private data centers, for non-SD-WAN deployments. The Catalyst 9300X is a perfect solution for IT organizations wanting to scale branch sites. With just a few simple clicks in Cisco DNA Center, IT can establish a secure point-to-point connection from a branch to enterprise datacenter and cloud resources.

Cisco also offers an Ultra-Reliable Wireless Backhaul to achieve fiber-like performance anywhere for mission-critical, real-time applications such as drone surveillance, warehouse robotics, utilities, automotive, rail, ports, mining, and event venues.

Private 5G for Industry 4.0

The second wave of digitalization will propel organizations into a new era referred to as the fourth industrial revolution. At the core of this new era is wireless networking and IoT that will transform industries and how they operate by digitalizing Operational Technology (OT). Private 5G complements Wi-Fi for use cases where environmental conditions or business imperatives requires a different approach to support mission critical, low latency connections. Cisco Private 5G is delivered as a managed service, eliminating nearly all financial risk to integrate the high speed, low latency, and device segmentation only 5G can provide to increase productivity.

Cisco Private 5G as a Service
Cisco Private 5G

The Network Powers Hybrid Work

Hybrid Work is evolving to connect people, devices, and applications wherever they are, to accomplish work as efficiently as possible. Cisco’s broad wireless portfolio—Wi-Fi 6E Access Points, Private 5G, Ultra Reliable Wireless Backhaul—is designed to deliver an unparalleled experience with ubiquitous connectivity and more freedom of choice on technologies that best fit an organization’s needs. Combining the high-performance spectrum of wireless 6/6E with Cisco Catalyst access and core switching creates a platform built for performance, security, and reliability.

Integrated with the new hardware is a platform of consistent identity and policy management with continuous zero trust across the full spectrum of wired and wireless connections to meet security and regulatory compliance. With Cisco DNA Center and Meraki Cloud Management, IT gains deeper visibility and insights along with greater automation to scale across all spectrums.

Cisco makes hybrid work, work.

Want to know even more and become involved in the journey to hybrid work? Watch the recording of our virtual event:

The Network. Powering Hybrid Work

Recorded February 23, 2022

Read More

Chris Stori, SVP and GM Network Experiences Engineering, highlights the new innovations from Cisco Secure Access in his blog post The Network. Powering Hybrid Work.

Read my Future of Work Networking Series to obtain additional insights into the network’s central role in enabling hybrid work, smart buildings, workforce mobility, secure IT infrastructure, and enhanced management capabilities for IT.


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Greg Dorai

Senior Vice President & General Manager, Cisco Networking Experiences - Campus Connectivity

Networking Experiences