The rollout of better connectivity with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 is a once-in-a-generation gamechanger and I predict an explosion of innovation as a result. We’ve seen it before; when connectivity improves there is an accompanying wave of new products, services and experiences in all of the adjacent industries; and in networking, that’s a lot! The difference between the upcoming wave of innovation and the one we experienced with 4G and LTE is ‘who will be leading the charge’.

4G revolutionized the consumer experience, providing the wireless foundation for the invention of the smartphone putting the internet into our pockets. The introduction of the smartphone then prompted the development of millions of apps that we access multiple times a day to share photos, find a restaurant, pay bills and accomplish virtually any task or access any service from the palm of our hand. Now, we live with our smartphones always within arm’s reach and demand faster and more reliable connectivity as we use the multitude of services on our device. It has been the individual consumer that has forced businesses – and even entire industries – to adapt.

5G and Wi-Fi 6 represent the next major leap in connectivity.

Hate when you’re at a concert or sporting event and can’t immediately post a video to your story or get a message to a friend, or when you move to a far corner of the office and lose internet access? That’s because today’s wireless access points and 4G cells can’t handle the number of devices trying to connect simultaneously. Wi-Fi 6 delivers up to 400% greater capacity and is far more effective in crowded settings. Latency is also reduced allowing faster posting, downloads and loading of apps or webpages. This improved connection will also be less draining on connected device’s batteries making them up to four times more power efficient.

 The 4G era brought the digital and physical worlds together through a consumer device – the smartphone. This caused massive disruption, as more than one industry found itself completely transformed because consumers could connect and share information in new ways. Many businesses resisted this change until they were forced to adapt, not because of a business opportunity but purely to survive.

The Wi-Fi 6 evolution will be different. As Wi-Fi 6 will reach maturity much quicker than 5G, it will be the enterprise having the opportunity to drive innovation. And they are hungry to do so, as many businesses have figured out how a digital experience can a be a differentiator. They also have more to work with. Lights, fridges, footballs and grapevines are all becoming connected, meaning we can view the world through an entirely new, digital lens. Whether to make operations safe and more efficient, or to offer consumers a more personalized experience, we’ll see companies embrace this transition – not resist it.

The exciting part of all of this is we still don’t know exactly what use cases and applications are going to emerge. That said, I do believe that Wi-Fi 6 will drive innovation in two main areas:

  • immersive experiences
  • IoT at scale

Imagine if students could gain entirely new understanding of past events by reliving them through virtual reality. I’m sure experiencing a Martin Luther King or Abraham Lincoln speech as if you’re there makes for a more lasting impression on a student. Or a surgeon being able to take detailed scans of a patient and practicing a procedure in virtual reality before ever making a cut. A warehouse can be outfitted with millions of sensors to allow autonomous electric robots and vehicles to fulfill orders and ship products almost instantaneously. All of this becomes possible with Wi-Fi 6’s increased bandwidth and lower latency.

Wired for Wireless

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G offer enormous opportunities for productivity and innovation, but successfully adopting these technologies at scale will be a challenge. These innovations will increase business mobile traffic up to seven times by 2022 and the number of IoT devices will increase to the billions. This makes security more complicated and critical and puts intense pressure on IT to manage and secure a constantly growing network. The businesses that can successfully address each of these challenges will be the ones that thrive in the new wireless era.

Cisco has been re-architecting the network to meet these challenges and unveiled its intent-based networking portfolio to prepare customers for this wireless-first world. With a software-focused approach, the network unlocks data and insights that will enable IT to support the business in real-time. It automates routine tasks and embeds security into the network itself. These efforts are helping customers and consumers capitalize on the opportunities Wi-Fi 6 and 5G offer, while ensuring security and the best user experience in an increasingly connected world.

Cisco also completed Wi-Fi 6 connection tests with Intel and Samsung to address the inevitable issues that come with a new standard. New Wi-Fi 6 access points across Cisco’s Catalyst and Meraki portfolios offer custom, programmable chipsets and access to industry-leading analytics capabilities for businesses. These new APs deliver a more secure wireless network and can communicate with multiple IoT protocols, including BLE, Zigbee and Thread.

We’re also introducing a new core switch for the campus network. For 20 years, the Catalyst 6000 family of switches have served as the very foundation of many customer campus network. It has been one of the most successful, innovative networking products in the history of the Internet. But businesses today require a networking foundation that is built to solve the challenges posed by our new wireless-first world. The new Catalyst 9600 core switch will do just that and will be the foundation for our customer campus networks for many years into the future.

An explosion of innovation is coming. Is your business ready to lead the charge?