Cisco and Apple alliance deepens, targets security and Wi-Fi projects

With Cisco's Ericsson partnership on hold for now, the Cisco and Apple CEOs hinted at joint work on Wi-Fi and security at Cisco annual customer conference.

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Cisco has placed its partnership with Ericsson on hold to give its recently appointed chief executive time to right the troubled Swedish telecom-equipment provider. In the meantime, Cisco and Apple are deepening their alliance.

On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook joined his Cisco counterpart Chuck Robbins at the opening keynote of Cisco Live, the company's annual customer education and training conference. Together, the Cisco and Apple CEOs touted the accomplishments of the partnership and hinted at future joint work on security and Wi-Fi performance.

While Cisco's alliance with Apple remains strong, the networking company's partnership with Ericsson has stalled. Two years ago, Robbins expected the Ericsson partnership to add at least $1 billion in annual sales to Cisco's balance sheet by 2018. On Monday, Robbins acknowledged that Cisco had to step back and give its partner some breathing room.

In January, Ericsson board member Borje Ekholm took over as CEO, succeeding Hans Vestberg, who the board ousted in July. Ekholm is revamping the company's operations to reduce costs, as Ericsson struggles with declining revenue.

"We''ve given him [Ekholm] some space for him to work through what he's been working on for the company," Robbins said during a meeting with reporters. Despite the break, Robbins was optimistic ongoing joint projects would eventually resume.

"I think we'll get back on that track sometime in the next three to six months would be my guess," he said.

In February, Cisco and Ericsson unveiled a joint service provider product called the Collaboration Mobile Convergence (CMC) service. The technology uses Cisco's platform for hosting several of the company's collaboration products, including Spark and Jabber team messaging, and WebEx video conferencing. Cisco and Ericsson plan to release CMC by the end of the year.

Cisco and Apple move ahead

While waiting for Ericsson to regain its footing, Robbins showed Cisco's love for Apple by bringing Cook onstage before 28,000 Cisco Live attendees. During a 10-minute chat, Robbins and Cook said the companies were working on using data from iOS devices to measure Wi-Fi performance through Cisco analytics.

"The worst thing is when a Wi-Fi endpoint can't connect," Robbins said. "Standard troubleshooting procedure is to start powering things off until it works again. I think we can bring more sanity to that."

Along with improving Wi-Fi performance, the companies are discussing how they could help enterprises lower the cost of buying insurance against cyberattacks. Cisco has been in talks with insurance companies for more than a year on whether its technology could help lower insurance rates.

"The thinking that we share here is that if your enterprise or your company is using Cisco and Apple, that the combination of these should make that insurance cost significantly less for you," Cook said. "This is something that we're going to spend some energy on."

To date, the joint work between Cisco and Apple has led to the development of so-called fast-lane technology, which lets companies prioritize iPhone and iPad app traffic over Cisco networks. Also, Apple has worked with Cisco on making the latter's collaboration apps run smoothly on iOS devices.

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