Cisco Live 2019 reveals industry confusion over 5G and Wi-Fi 6

Cisco is keen to remind customers that one network tech will not replace the other

5G and Wi-Fi 6 keynote address

Despite the prevailing interest in 5G and Wi-Fi 6 at this year's Cisco Live conference, a great deal of effort has been spent on reminding customers that the two technologies can, and should, coexist.

The efforts reveal a general confusion in the industry around whether the new mobile technology will replace Wi-Fi in the workplace, but the reality is that businesses will likely need to consider investing in both 5G and Wi-Fi if they are to achieve an uninterrupted network.

The proof is in the approach to the architecture, according to Grego Dorai, VP product management at Cisco. He said 5G and Wi-Fi are built for outdoor and indoor environments respectively, so the approach is to build a hyperconnected world with smoother connection handoffs when venturing indoors or outdoors.

"What we want to address in the 5G and Wi-Fi 6 world is smoother handoffs so we can go in and out without really dropping these experiences," said Dorai.

There are different benefits that 5G and Wi-Fi provide. The former offers great speeds in outdoor environments tailored for things like smart cities and autonomous cars, but Wi-Fi will always be the most reliable connection for indoor settings given the number of obstacles that would otherwise hinder 5G.

"There's not a single Wi-Fi network deployed anywhere indoors that's not dense. There's probably 10 APs in here and the cost-per-bit for that density is very, very cost-effective," said Mat MacPherson, CTO at Cisco Wireless Business. "These technologies definitely have to come together or we're not going to be able to provide that fully mobile, access-anywhere experience for that best cost."

"I think it's becoming more and more important as we have these different access technologies that they start to converge. Sometimes people say that that means they threaten each other. They're not really a threat, the convergence is good," MacPherson added. "Because as these come together, that means you can really start to leverage that heterogeneous behaviour."

Cisco has invested heavily in an IoT plan for coming years, evidenced by its latest IoT architect DevNet certification, revealed this week. It also makes sense that the company is going big on Wi-Fi 6 too, considering how the two technologies will compliment each other.

"The ability to have high-density environments with Wi-Fi 6 and the target wake up time that extends battery life for all the IoT devices - that has our IoT developers really excited in thinking about new applications particularly in manufacturing, we've heard a lot of interest from developers around that," said Amanda Whaley, senior director of developer experience at Cisco DevNet.

In terms of when we can expect comprehensive 5G and Wi-Fi 6 coverage, we're still years away on both counts, according to Gorai.

"Wi-Fi 6 from an infrastructure perspective, [we can expect it] by the end of this year most vendors will roll out the infrastructure but it will take 2-3 years after that for pervasive deployment," he said.

"We're just starting to see the availability of devices going through that device refresh. When 5G would hit that tipping point, where more than half of connections and devices are 5G-connected instead of LTE - that's probably 3,4, maybe 5 years away," said Michael Beesley, CTO, Cisco service provider business.

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