Part 2 of a 6 Part Series on the Future of Hybrid Work: Reimagine Mobility

Mobility is essential to the future of hybrid work. Mobility can mean logging in from anywhere (nomadic); the ability to keep a connection when moving among Wi-Fi access points, or cell to cell (homogeneous); or moving between Wi-Fi and cellular (heterogeneous). This ability to connect and work from anywhere removes boundaries and gives us greater flexibility in all we do. When our connection to the network is transparent–that is, we don’t have to know or care how it’s made–we change how everyone on the network can interact with and work together to become more productive, efficient, and inclusive. And when the network supports full spectrum wireless access–that is all Wi-Fi channels plus cellular–people can move among workspaces transparently with no interruption in their services.

The Multipath Challenge: Quality of Experience

One issue that arises with full spectrum wireless access is that there are often multiple paths data can take. Depending on the situation, the path used can have a significant impact on the network experience.

Consider an incoming phone call. The call can come in over 5G, LTE, or Wi-Fi. Today’s phones tend to take the simplistic approach of preferring Wi-Fi to conserve cellular bandwidth and take advantage of Wi-Fi’s increased bandwidth and lower cost. They only use LTE or 5G when Wi-Fi is unavailable. But this is not always the preferred behavior. The Wi-Fi at dorm room buildings, with hundreds of students with multiple wireless devices, that has no backhaul capacity can produce a marginal experience at best. Thus, calls and video classes keep cutting out when they could be crystal clear over 5G. This is only one of the potential bottlenecks in the end-to-end connection between devices and the cloud that negatively impact the quality of experience.

Reimagining mobility means that IT takes the quality of experience into account. Quality can be measured by profiling each available path to determine which will provide the best experience based on the activities the network is currently supporting. When Wi-Fi quality is inconsistent, a call can be routed to 5G. When the Wi-Fi clears, the call can be transferred back to Wi-Fi. When this process is automated, call routing is transparent to people. They simply experience a great call or application performance. .

From IT’s perspective, this is exactly what Cisco ThousandEyes enables. ThousandEyes monitors the network and tracks the quality of service over the entire connection path, regardless of the device or application in use, whether the connection is entirely in a data center or going through a cloud provider, or both. In short, ThousandEyes informs IT how each of the possible paths data can take is currently performing. ThousandEyes provides visibility into how a particular application will perform on each available path, making that data available to IT in real-time to make appropriate routing policy decisions to maintain a high application experience.

Another factor is that not all data should be treated equally. Video collaboration applications consume significantly more data than IoT devices monitoring a smart building’s operations. Video traffic needs to be routed so that it does not negatively impact the critical operations of the smart building. That’s why multipath decisions need to be under the control of IT. In combination with ThousandEyes, IT can set up policies that consider the requirements of devices, applications, and the available capacity of the network.

Multipath is just one aspect of mobility. For people to be able to work anywhere, the enterprise network must be everywhere. For example, when using business applications at an airport, the appropriate policies need to be applied to the connections the airport Wi-Fi network makes to the enterprise network. When a DNS lookup is made, it needs to be completed under the enterprise umbrella and security policies so end points are protected against connecting to corrupted sites and exposed to intrusive malware.

Seamless Mobility Across Cellular and Wi-Fi Networks with OpenRoaming

A key aspect of mobility in hybrid work is the ability to seamlessly move among locations and across multiple access technologies. Consider a person on a call in a car on the way to work. When she enters the workspace, the phone can switch from cellular to Wi-Fi. One of the underlying technologies making seamless multipath possible is authentication. To make a smooth switch from cellular to Wi-Fi, a phone must already be connected to both and ready to authenticate with the same policies.

OpenRoaming technology handles this automatically. OpenRoaming provides frictionless Wi-Fi onboarding by linking together access providers (such as public venues, retailers, airports, and large enterprises) and identity providers (such as service provider carriers, devices, and cloud providers). A mobile device needs to sign on only once with a trusted identity provider. Afterward they are automatically connected to OpenRoaming networks whenever and wherever one is available. OpenRoaming ensures seamless onboarding to all available networks so that multi-path can intelligently manage handoff between them.

Ultimately, Wi-Fi quality will determine how carriers embrace Wi-Fi to offload cellular networks. As cellular data use increases, carriers want to be able to handle more calls and more data traffic, and Wi-Fi gives them a way to do this without building more towers. Specifically, Wi-Fi gives carriers a way to extend into the Enterprise network. Just connecting to Wi-Fi, however, can’t guarantee the level of service users are used to when using the cellular network.

Balancing Quality of Experience with Carrier Offload

Carriers need to have confidence when they offload their cellular traffic to Wi-Fi network. Because they don’t own and control the wireless network, they cannot directly guarantee the experience they will be able deliver to their customers. Ultimately, if carriers want to be able to provide their services through the enterprise network, they need to be able to guarantee the same reliability and quality as the cellular network. And multipath is a part of that equation.

While carrier offload is not new, the ability for the carrier to choose to offload according to established SLAs will add significant value. However, that will require coordination between Cisco, enterprise IT, and carriers. Cisco is solving its part of the challenge through the device ecosystem. By working with device manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, Intel, and Google, Cisco can provide the information devices and access points need to more intelligently choose a network path that matches application performance requirements. This will enable phone manufacturers and carriers to provide the highest levels of service no matter where a device is being used.

From the network side, Cisco ThousandEyes provides an SLA with analytics on the signal path so carriers can have confidence that traffic sent over Wi-Fi will perform to expectations. Now when a device tries to offload onto Wi-Fi, the carrier can choose to accept or not based on the actual real-time SLA of the Wi-Fi connection. If the SLA says service will be poor, the carrier can keep the call on LTE/5G.

Multipath is extremely useful and is already in common usage with technologies like FaceTime and Siri. To work well on a wider scale, multipath choices need to be automatic, transparent, and seamless anywhere an endpoint might go. Our choices will be less about picking a network and more about connecting with a policy and SLA.

In my next post in this series, we will look at Reimagining Security in a wireless world.

Read the Future of Work Networking Series

Advance your mobility, advance your business with Cisco Catalyst 9000



Greg Dorai

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

Networking Experiences