Tuesday, 12 March 2019 16:29

5G and Wi-Fi 6 complementary, says Cisco

Cisco senior vice president and chief of operations Irving Tan Cisco senior vice president and chief of operations Irving Tan

"2019 is a big year for wireless" as it sees the start of the rollout of Wi-Fi 6 and 5G, as well as being the 20th anniversary of Wi-Fi, Cisco APJC senior vice-president of engineering Anand Oswal says.

Wi-Fi 6 and 5G take advantage of similar fundamental technological building blocks, allowing high density, low latency and other improvements, Oswal said at the recent Cisco Live 2019 conference in Melbourne.

He expects Wi-Fi to continue to be the access mechanism of choice in homes, offices, stores and so on, with 5G being used largely outdoors.

Work is underway to make 5G and Wi-Fi work better together, with capabilities such as unified security, unified policies, and seamless transitions from one network to another.

Wi-Fi specific improvements include making it easier to connect to a new network. This currently involves selecting an SSID, entering the password, navigating captive portals, and so on. "At Cisco, we believe we can do better."

Joining a Wi-Fi 6 network could become as easy as joining a cellular network. For example, Galaxy S9 users at MWC 2019 were connected to the Wi-Fi network completely automatically. "That is the experience you want," he said.

5G and Wi-fi 6 will provide "unprecedented low-latency and bandwidth possibilities", said Cisco senior vice-president and chief of operations Irving Tan.

5G has particular significance for machine-to-machine communications, including medicine, agriculture, and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure.

Indoor penetration is an issue for 5G signals, so it makes sense to use Wi-Fi 6 to distribute connectivity within buildings. Also, systems that use regulated spectrum (eg, 5G) are expensive, so there's a good reason to use fixed-line connections to premises with Wi-Fi 6 for local reticulation, switching to 5G when off-premises.

But it's not quite that simple. Cisco service provider sales vice president and CTO Colin Kincaid pointed out that while consumers don't care about ultra low latency, it does makes a difference in applications such as factory automation. So it is likely that some industrial equipment will be connected by 5G.

The company also looks at 5G from the telcos' perspective.

Cisco APJ service provider business vice-president Sanjay Kaul pointed out that migrating to 5G isn't simply a matter of adding 5G radios. Instead, it is necessary to also address the core, transport and backhaul networks.

Cisco global service provider segment senior vice-president Michael Glickman added "We've always been radio agnostic" and are staying that way.

"This is a very interesting space", one that provides carriers with opportunities to become more profitable by meeting customers' needs. One example of this is Verizon's 5G SD-WAN service for connecting branch offices.

Glickman also pointed out that "this part of the world [Korea, Japan and Australia] is at the cutting edge" of 5G.

"5G is full of promise," not just hype, said Kincaid. "What's possible is changing", but at this stage we don't know which new services will actually "stick."

Cisco senior vice-president and general manager of enterprise networking Scott Harrell said, "5G is going to have a massive impact", but there is a need to determine how to bring 5G and Wi-Fi 6 together "in meaningful ways."

Cisco is determined to get the economics of 5G and Wi-Fi 6 right, said Tan.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.



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