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Exclusive: New Cisco Catalyst Access Point, Embedded Wireless Controller Join Wi-Fi 6 Lineup

On the heels of the Wi-Fi 6 standard becoming ratified, Cisco unveils a Catalyst access point and embedded wireless controller to its portfolio for businesses that may have been holding off on upgrading their networks.

Now that the Wi-Fi 6 standard has been ratified, Cisco Systems is adding a brand-new access point and controller to its product portfolio.  

Cisco in April announced its new line of Wi-Fi 6-capable Catalyst 9100 access points that contain baked-in security and can communicate with popular Internet of Things protocols such as BLE Zigbee and Thread. The latest Catalyst 9130 access point and Embedded Wireless Controller (EWC) unveiled Friday join Cisco's next-generation wireless portfolio, Greg Dorai, vice president of product management and strategy for Cisco's Enterprise Infrastructure and Solutions Group, told CRN.  

"This hardware delivers on a lot of the promise that we started talking about in April because it is the highest end of Wi-Fi 6. When you're going up against 5G, for example, this is the sort of access point that can deliver equivalent speeds and latency," Dorai said.  

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The Wi-Fi 6-capable Catalyst 9130 Access Point has four radios that can become five, with one of the 8x8 radios able to split into two 4x4 radios. This split is a Catalyst 9130 feature called Flexible Radio Assignment, according to Cisco. With tri-radio mode, Flexible Radio Assignment allows the access point to intelligently determine the operating mode of serving radios based on the RF environment and traffic demands. The new access point includes real-time analytics, integrated security and full intelligent capture, Cisco said.  

The Wi-Fi 6 standard was ratified by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in April. Cisco's new offerings are fully compliant with the standard, Dorai said.  

"It's important because as devices get the Wi-Fi 6 chips, they'll only have the ratified standard," he said. As an example, the latest access point is compatible with the iPhone 11, which is also Wi-Fi 6-capable, Dorai said.  

"This is the flagship AP we've been waiting for," said Dennis Holmes, senior technology adviser, mobility and IoT solutions, for Internetwork Engineering, a Charlotte, N.C.-based Cisco Gold Partner.  

The Cisco Catalyst 9130 is the replacement for Cisco's 3800 series, which was based on Aironet technology. It is the first 8x8 radio that's a true, Wi-Fi 6-certifiable product, according to Holmes, who is a voting member for the IEEE and someone who has helped develop emerging Wi-Fi standards.  

Because the 8x8 radio can be split, customers will have the option to deploy only one access point in certain smaller locations, like a conference room, he said. "It gives customers a lot more capability per capacity," Holmes added.  

Cisco's EWC, which can be embedded directly onto the Catalyst access point, places control right on the access point. For customers, it means an easier path to the Wi-Fi 6 network and simplifies deployment and management because it eliminates the need for a dedicated physical appliance. The EWC is a good fit for distributed enterprises or businesses looking to upgrade to Wi-Fi 6 with minimal IT resources, Dorai said.  

"It's great for customers like a small branch where they just want to self-manage the access points, one of which can be a controller," he said.  

Enterprises that thought they should wait to make their network upgrades can now make the transition with peace of mind, Dorai said.  

Internetwork Engineering's Holmes said that many businesses have been holding off on making wireless upgrades, with many of them still using 802.11n-capable access points that were introduced 10 years ago. Wi-Fi 6, also known as 802.11ax, will be able to power extremely high-bandwidth applications for the first time— like virtual reality—in the real word, Holmes said.  

"This is the first major change in 10 years and [Wi-Fi 6] is a game-changer because it was meant to complement 5G technologies that are going to be rolling out."  

The Catalyst 9130 access point and Cisco EWC are available now for enterprises or through the channel, according to Cisco.

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