Apple and the FBI will need to compromise, Cisco's CEO says

Chuck Robbins opposes back doors but sees a need for balance between privacy and national security

Cisco Systems CEO Chuck Robbins gave up a chance to strongly support enterprise mobility partner Apple in its fight with the FBI over iPhone encryption.

Asked about the controversy during a press briefing at Mobile World Congress, Robbins said he doesn't think vendors should put back doors in products. But when it comes to personal privacy versus national security, "There needs to be a balance," he said. Ultimately, the two sides will need to compromise, Robbins said.

"Our situation is completely different" from Apple's, because Cisco's customers make the choice whether and how to use encryption on the company's products, he said.

Cisco partnered with Apple last September in a deal that will let enterprises give iOS devices some priority on Cisco networks. One thing they'll be able to do is put iPhone calls over corporate LANs and track them the way desk phones are logged today for security and regulatory compliance.

The first deliverables from the partnership will come this summer, Robbins said.

Also at the briefing, Robbins pressed one of the major themes of this year's MWC, the Internet of Things, as a chance for Cisco to shine. IoT brings a centrifugal force to the IT universe that plays to Cisco's strengths, he said.

IoT will put more devices and more data at the edges of networks, too far away from centralized cloud data centers for the quick responses needed for things like keeping autonomous cars safe, Robbins said. Getting to the cloud takes too much time for split-second decisions to avoid a crash.

"I don't see a world where 100 percent of everything is sitting in a cloud," he said. Instead, hybrid IT architectures will be critical.

It was a pitch for Cisco's "fog computing" architecture, which provides computing modules close to IoT devices like industrial sensors, and for the company's network-based security technology. Where it used to be enough to protect a network with appliances like firewalls, now security needs to extend all the way to the end device, Robbins said.

IoT is also a replay of Cisco's early days of handling a multitude of protocols, the original reason for the company's first routers. Cellular, Wi-Fi, low-power wireless systems and legacy industrial protocols will all be part of the mix. Cisco announced Tuesday it's working with new partner Ericsson on a 5G router to connect remote assets like cash machines. It sells 4G routers today.

At the show, the companies have also introduced Dynamic Service Manager, a software platform that combines components from each partner and is designed to help carriers roll out new networks more quickly.

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