Apple and Cisco worked together to eliminate a sticky AP problem.

Jeffrey Schwartz

September 20, 2019

4 Min Read
Apple iPhone 11 Pro
Apple

Apple may find it difficult to entice customers eagerly awaiting a 5G phone to upgrade to the new iPhone 11, which hit the streets Friday. While it’s no surprise that Apple didn’t include a 5G option with this year’s annual iPhone rollout, the three new models do offer a significant boost in wireless LAN throughput with support for the new Wi-Fi 6 standard.

Curiously, Apple gave only passing mention during last week’s iPhone 11 rollout that the new models are the company’s first that support Wi-Fi 6 (aka 802.11ax), a capability Samsung introduced in the spring with the launch of its Galaxy 10 phones. Perhaps Apple downplayed the significant boost in wireless LAN throughput to the fact that most APs are still based on the older Wi-Fi 4 (802.11n) or Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) Wi-Fi standards.

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World Wide Technology’s Neil Anderson

Behind the scenes, it appears Wi-Fi 6 is more than a passing thought at Apple. The company’s engineers have paid significant attention to eliminating the so-called “sticky AP problem,” where client devices cling to a single access point after it is no longer the nearest one. Cisco this week pointed to its alliance with Apple to ensure new iPhone 11 users see maximum benefits of the new Wi-Fi 6 standard.

“This is where channel partners can help customers with their [Wi-Fi 6] networks,” said Neil Anderson, director of World Wide Technology’s network solutions practice, during a presentation at last week’s Channel Partners Evolution in Washington, D.C. “I guarantee you today’s coverage models will need to be redesigned for capacity,” Anderson said.

Matt MacPherson, Cisco’s wireless CTO, told Channel Futures that one of the last things John Chambers did before handing over the CEO reins to Chuck Robbins was establish the partnership with Apple to collaborate on ensuring improved performance when iPhones, iPads and Macs are used in environments with Cisco APs.

“Now Chuck and Tim talk periodically in areas that we can as companies jointly work together,” MacPherson said.

Cisco and Apple’s wireless networking engineers meet on a weekly basis, according to MacPherson.

“We look at how devices interact with and work with networking infrastructure,” he said. “And in doing that, we not only made sure that the standard implementations for network access work very well but we also looked at ways to do enhancements above and beyond standards. The standards do a good job for baseline interconnectivity and interoperability. But there are always a lot of areas where you can apply machine learning and intelligence from the network so that the device can make smarter decisions.”

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Cisco’s Scott Harrell

Scott Harrell, senior VP and general manager of Cisco’s enterprise networking business, this week outlined three key capabilities that the two companies have developed together:

  • Wi-Fi Analytics: Both companies have developed Wi-Fi Analytics for iOS, which allows Apple devices connected to an enterprise network to share telemetry with the Cisco DNA Center Assurance management platform.

  • QoS: Cisco’s Fast Lane feature lets customers or managed service providers prioritize Wi-Fi traffic flow based on the applications, such as videoconferencing, and apply quality of service accordingly. “What’s interesting about it is that we’re not just doing this generically, we’re allowing the venue to specify what’s important to them,” MacPherson explained. “We allow you to push the policy based on the segment of the network that you’re connected to, so that you can have the experience that’s appropriate for the business you’re conducting and the applications that you’re using.”

  • Roaming: Addressing the “sticky AP” issue, Fast Transition Roaming aims to ensure Apple devices work with access points to ensure effective handoffs from one AP to another. MacPherson explained that the two companies addressed the process of authentication when a device links to different APs. Fast Transition Roaming implements the 802.11r standard streamlines the authentication process. “You don’t have to go through a full re-authentication sequence,” said MacPherson.

It may take some time for customers to see the benefits of the Wi-Fi 6 support, but MacPherson believes it will shift, especially in large venues such as airports, stadiums and convention centers. Apple’s three devices with Wi-Fi 6 support include the core iPhone 11 ($699), the iPhone 11 Pro ($999) and the iPhone 11 Pro Max ($1,099). Apple’s new iPad, which ships on Sept. 30, does not support Wi-Fi 6.

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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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