Cisco Catalyst CW916x Access Points – The Choice is Yours

The Cisco Catalyst CW9166, CW9164 and CW9162 Wi-Fi 6E Access Points feature the ability to be managed either in the Meraki cloud, or with a Catalyst 9800 Wireless LAN Controller. Many of us have wanted this feature for a decade! Each of the ”CW” access-points are convertible between the two modes, which allows you to change how an AP is managed in the future, if you desire.

True Dual Personas

When I first heard about these APs, I was afraid it would be similar to previous Meraki ”integrations” that showed only the up/down status of the device, or some very limited monitoring. I’m pleased to report that this is the real deal. These APs truly ”dual boot” between Meraki Cloud and Cisco Controller-based modes. That means you get the full experience in both situations. It is important to note that this is an ”either, or” scenario and not a ”both” scenario. You cannot have the AP connected to a Catalyst 9800 Wireless Controller and manage it in the Meraki Cloud at the same time.

Cisco Catalyst CW916x Dual Personas

The CW9166, CW9164 and CW9162 APs will be available to order with either a Meraki Cloud ”mode” SKU or a Controller-based ”mode” SKU to save time with the initial deployment process. For the first time ever, you will be able to convert the APs between these two personas on your own, after you receive them.

The Catalyst 9800 Wireless Controller ”Change to Meraki Persona” option

From within the Cisco Catalyst 9800 Wireless Controller, you can choose the ”Change to Meraki Persona” menu item to convert the APs to Meraki Cloud management. It will even provide you with a copy/pastable list of the information you need to ”claim” these APs in your Meraki Dashboard. Part of this information includes the AP name, so it will persist through the conversion. It is similarly easy to convert the AP from the Meraki Cloud to Catalyst 9800 Controller-based management.

Specifications

As you would expect, Cisco is releasing ”good, better, best” variants of their newest access point. You have the choice of a more cost-effective 2×2 AP, up to a full-blown 4×4 XOR Radio AP. The CW9166 can be operated in a 2.4+5+6GHz mode or a 2.4+5+5 GHz mode, depending on your deployment needs. I like this approach, as it gives you the ability to have a ”double capacity” (dual-5GHz radios) 5GHz AP today, which can evolve into a 6GHz radio in the future when your client base can take advantage of it.

Cisco Catalyst CW9162, CW9164 and CW9166 Specifications

The CW9166 and CW9164 are very similar in size to the C9136, but slightly smaller. The CW9162 is substantially smaller than the others, and closer to the size of a C9115.

Cisco Cisco Catalyst Wi-Fi 6E Portfolio – CW9162, CW9164, CW9166, MR57 and C9136

Unfortunately, the very recent MR57 and C9136 APs are not convertible between the two personas. However, the C9136 is still seen as the flagship AP in the portfolio, as it does offer some more radio flexibility that the other APs do not.

Summary

If you’ve ever been torn between wanting the nerd knobs that come with a controller-based AP, and the simplicity that comes with a Meraki Cloud-managed AP, you no longer have to make a choice between the two. The Cisco Catalyst CW916x family of access points gives you the flexibility to deploy the AP in either mode, and convert between the two modes in the future.

This move very likely marks the end of the traditional Meraki MR product line. I expect that all future Meraki APs will fall under the CW model name, and be convertible between the Meraki Cloud and a Cisco Catalyst 9800 Wireless Controller. I would also expect Cisco to continue to release controller-based-only APs for specific use cases, as well. Hopefully we will continue to see the ”CW” product line expand into outdoor APs (once AFC exists), wall plate APs, and other use cases in the future.

Check out the CW9166 Datasheet here: https://documentation.meraki.com/MR/MR_Overview_and_Specifications/CW9166_Datasheet

3 thoughts on “Cisco Catalyst CW916x Access Points – The Choice is Yours

    • Dave Benham

      Thanks for the correction! This is why I shouldn’t write articles at 3am. I’ve updated the post.

  1. Arshad

    Any idea how they will have smartnet contracts to these AP’s? As of now Meraki doesn’t mandatorily require smartnet sku’s while ordering, but Cisco the case is different.

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