Cisco Leader Agrees: The Pandemic Subtly Accelerated – and Dramatically Altered – Enterprise Adoption of 5G

Shaun McCarthy joins me on the Your Edge podcast to paint a realistic picture of 5G’s value to businesses. We also reveal how private 5G could – and should – be used alongside Wi-Fi 6 if you have automation ambitions.

A forklift operator touches the screen on his vehicle-mounted Zebra ET8x 5G rugged tablet
by Jeff Stark
July 07, 2022

We may not have said it out loud until now, but the pandemic has resulted in one of the largest tech booms in modern history. It has led to an awakening around 5G for wireless network operators and equipment suppliers.

I know we’ve all had big plans and high hopes for 5G for quite a while. But when Zebra hosted a TED Talk back in 2019 with Jeff Lorbeck from Qualcomm’s Connected Smart Systems division, we weren’t talking about private 5G networks as the way of the future. And we certainly didn’t believe they were the only way operators will be able to monetize 5G (as we do now). Private 5G was an edge use case at best. Yet, today, all we talk about is how private 5G will be the bridge to mobile edge computing for multiple industries and the big money maker for operators. That’s because the pandemic has changed our perspective on everything. It has provided clarity. 

Shaun McCarthy, Vice President of Worldwide Sales for the Mass-Scale Infrastructure Group (MIG) at Cisco, completely agrees. 

5G didn’t end up killing Wi-Fi like we thought it would a few years ago, just like video didn’t kill the radio star like we thought a few decades ago. It’s possible for seemingly competing technology platforms to co-exist. 

In fact, 5G and Wi-Fi 6 must co-exist in most enterprise environments from here on out, as the teams at Zebra and Cisco are now demonstrating. We can no longer allow a traditionalist mindset around wireless technologies – or the assumed value of 5G – to hold us back from doing what we must to move forward. Sticking with status quo network structures isn’t going to reduce IT risks or keep costs under control. Instead, it could introduce more risk by inhibiting your business’s ability to digitalize and automate operations at scale – or at all. 

That’s why, on a press panel at Mobile World Congress 2022, Shaun and I personally made the case for why these two wireless technologies should not be competing for budget anymore by explaining how they complement one another in modern business. This notion that Wi-Fi is always needed inside the four walls and cellular networks are the only option outdoors is outdated. We can’t think of these as either-or options. The acceleration toward digitalization and automation during the pandemic proved that, and the continued convergence of IoT devices across enterprises is reinforcing it. Likewise, the idea that one type of wireless technology is better than the other is a limiting belief. 

In fact, Shaun confirmed on our latest episode of the Your Edge podcast that 100% of the projects the Cisco team works on are some combination of 5G and Wi-Fi 6. If you’re curious about how 5G and Wi-Fi need to play together in your sandbox moving forward or how the “promise of private 5G” is playing out in the real world – on the front lines, in uncarpeted areas – then tune into the latest Your Edge podcast episode:

A View from the Cutting Edge: How Private 5G and Wi-Fi 6 are Coming Together Across the Enterprise

In our 20-minute conversation with host Therese Van Ryne, Shaun and I explain:

  • [1:20] Why everyone needs to stop marketing (or thinking about) 5G as an upgrade to 4G, and why our consumer “speeds and feeds” interpretation of 5G’s benefits will never translate well into business applications.

  • [4:09] How 5G has matured in the enterprise environment since the start of the pandemic, resulting in a strong business case for private 5G.

  • [8:06] The right way to build enterprise wireless networks in factories, warehouses, retail stores, hospitals, stadiums and other facilities, and why uncarpeted operations demand an open mind from an IT perspective. 

  • [10:06] How we’re working with Cisco to pilot private 5G and Wi-Fi 6 technology in our Zebra distribution center in Flowery Branch, Georgia. I also share why we felt, as a manufacturer and distributor, that implementing Cisco’s private 5G solution alongside Wi-Fi would be best for our business.

  • [11:58] Other ways Zebra and Cisco have been working collaboratively for 18+ months to innovate, test, implement and scale next-gen wireless solutions to the benefit of our mutual customers. 

  • [17:03] The lessons learned thus far from our joint customer projects, including the best practices and decision criteria that should be applied when IT teams or project managers start to map out the wireless strategy for their organizations. We also talk about the mistakes we don’t want you to make when rolling out new wireless and IoT technology platforms.


Jeff Stark
Jeff Stark serves as the Director of the Strategic Partner Team within the Design, Management, Operations group of Zebra Technologies. In this role, Mr. Stark is responsible for managing the operational strategic partner ecosystem, which includes chipsets, operating systems (OS), enterprise mobility management (EMM), carriers, cloud and new emerging technology partners. In his Design, Management and Operations role, he is responsible for overlaying the pan Zebra technology roadmap with Zebra's operational partners. He also drives platforming and innovation.
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