Apple and Cisco shook hands on an agreement that could have a profound impact on mobile enterprise networks and iOS.
The central promise is that Cisco will build what it calls a "fast-lane" over its corporate networks, prioritizing quality service for business content on iPads and iPhones.
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Mobile devices can overload the network, causing apps to not work as well, but most importantly, it's costing businesses money, said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's collaboration technology group in an interview streamed on Periscope this week.
"Imagine being in a hospital and your doctor is coming in remotely to [communicate] with you, and the patient next door is downloading a cat video," Trollope said. "You don't want the same quality of service for those kinds of experiences. You want to say, 'Hey, look, this is business critical traffic. We want to make sure that goes over the network super, super well.'"
Cisco aims to give both custom and App Store enterprise iOS apps visibility and priority on enterprise networks so IT can ensure they work better together in an enterprise environment, a Cisco spokesperson said.
The official partnership will make troubleshooting iOS mobile network issues a bit easier, said Stephen Monteros, vice president of business development and strategic initiatives at SIGMAnet, Inc., an Ontario, Calif.-based Apple reseller and Cisco partner.
Stephen MonterosVice president of business development and strategic initiatives at SIGMAnet
"We run into situations where people deploy iOS devices, and the question becomes, is the issue with iOS or is it the network?" he said. "These things do come about…It adds an extra layer of complexity. Is it the device side? Or is it Cisco? When I call Cisco, this will show up in the FAQs."
One of the first things the companies intend to do is make iPhone native to corporate communication networks. This involves integrating iPhones with desk phones by collaborating iOS with Cisco voice and video environments.
This will improve the quality of phone calls for iPhone users, Cisco's Trollope said.
"It's not just joining a Wi-Fi network," he said in the Periscope interview. "It's using a native experience for calling, so when you receive a call through your corporate PBX, that actually gets routed and natively handled through your iPhone experience. That's not possible today."
Integrating the iPhone into corporate data networks could lower mobile costs for businesses by using the Cisco Enterprise Unified Communications infrastructure, a Cisco spokesperson said. Businesses will avoid some roaming and toll costs.
On paper, the partnership has the potential to greatly benefit both companies, in addition to IT, Monteros of SIGMAnet said. For Cisco to have a stronger presence in the mobile enterprise, it needs end-to-end systems, and that's what Apple devices offer.
As more professionals opt to use their mobile phones over their desk phones, tying Cisco's VOIP products to the devices people use makes more sense for Cisco, he said.
"It could make iOS devices the device of choice because it could operate faster in certain places," Monteros said. "Cisco is very good at development so that plays to Apple's benefit… I see this as being well received."
Although the partnership is very compelling, the question is what does the "fast-lane" mean for other vendors, said Michael Oh, CTO and Founder, TSP LLC, an Apple reseller based in Boston.
"If I was in the shoes of Samsung or HTC [competing with Apple] or even HP competing with Cisco, I'd say hold on, is this actually changing the concept?" he said. "Is this preferential treatment? The network is supposed to be a conduit to all things equally. Where does this prioritization come into play? …The 'fast-lane' concept just seems like marketing speak to lessen the complication of a very difficult issue."
Cisco emphasizes that it is providing visibility of content on networks for enterprise IT and that enterprise IT will prioritize the network.
"[The] partnership agreement will have no impact on net neutrality because it is focused on improving the experience inside an enterprise network and is not affecting anything on the public Internet," a Cisco spokesperson said.
Enterprise networks are not included in the net neutrality rules because they are separate from the public Internet and may need to actively manage traffic to provide the best experience for enterprise users. Nothing in this agreement will impact the Internet experience of ordinary consumers, according to Cisco.
Last summer, Apple struck a deal with IBM centered on iOS gaining a stronger presence business. In the deal, IBM would build 100 enterprise apps for iPads and iPhones.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said during an earnings call in July of last year that sinking iPad sales "were behind the thinking" of the IBM partnership, as he sees a "substantial upside" in the business market.
The deal with Cisco has the same feel to it as iPad sales have declined for six straight quarters and continue to fall. Presently, 42% of enterprises use Cisco communications gear, the company said. It remains to be seen if the networking giant can turn Apple's iPad business around.
Ramin Edmond is a news writer with TechTarget's end user computing media group. Contact him at Redmond@techtarget.com.