Ian King (Bloomberg) -- As the technology industry talks up 5G cellular networks, Cisco Systems Inc. says much of the promised revolution in connectivity will come from a more prosaic source: WiFi.
A new version of the ubiquitous short-range connection technology is being rolled out this year, called WiFi 6. It will bring the ability to connect many more devices to one access point, much faster data speeds and quicker response times, according to its backers, mirroring the promises of 5G cellular.
While 4G brought mobile high-speed internet to consumers, there was little effort to make it work with WiFi and that reduced its potential to transform business, according to Gordon Thomson, a Cisco vice president of enterprise networking sales. This time, as both new sets of technology debut later this year, the networks are going to be populated with electronics that talk to other electronics, not just smartphones, and for that WiFi will be crucial, he said.
“Up until now we’ve connected people and devices,’’ said Thomson. ‘Now we’re moving to a world of connected things. I believe it’ll drive the business transformation that we’ve been thinking is coming.’’
One of the biggest makers of equipment that’s the backbone of corporate networks and the internet, Cisco estimates 50 percent of internet data traffic is carried by WiFi. Phones need to be able to transition seamlessly between cellular and WiFi. WiFi access points will become more important as they connect everything from product beacons that show companies exactly where small items are in their warehouses, to sensors embedded in buildings that adjust the temperature to personal preferences and other sensors in hospitals that tell staff whether visitors or staff are cleaning their hands properly.
Cisco, one of the biggest providers of such access points to companies, is offering new WiFi 6 access devices, core switch machines that will better direct traffic, and is partnering with companies including Samsung Electronics Co. to ensure roaming between cellular and WiFi becomes seamless, Thomson said.
Carnival Corp.’s passengers are bringing more connected devices onto cruise ships and demanding better services, according to Reza Rasoulian who’s responsible for the cruise line operator’s connectivity deployments. A large ship will have as many as 5,000 access points to meet that demand, he said.
The company is looking for new network technology to help it deploy fewer wireless routers and enable services such as tracking, luggage and automating other aspects of managing ships, he said. That’s particularly difficult because wireless technology faces tough challenges onboard – high demand and lots of radio interference. New WiFi 6 improvements and new management features, such as the ability to more carefully track data traffic and usage, will help deployments, he said.
“We have a lot ships and lot of guests and we have a lot of metal,’’ he said. “It’s gotten a lot better than it was five years ago. Does the industry have work to do still? Yes.”