Cisco Catalyst 9120 AX WiFi 6 High Performance Access Point

Last updated on July 9th, 2021

Cisco 9120AX access points with WiFi 6 and 4×4 dual band radios that are suitable for a variety of medium and high density enterprise business deployments are discussed in this article.

Cisco Systems

Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) is a global leader in wired and wireless networking products and was founded in 1984 in San Francisco, USA. Cisco is the current market leader in the Enterprise WLAN market with about 43.1% revenue share in 3rd quarter of 2020 as per IDC Worldwide Quarterly Wireless LAN Tracker 3Q20.

In this post we will look at the Cisco Catalyst 9120 AX series WiFi 6 access points that are targeted at medium and high density Enterprise business deployments, remote sites, branch offices etc that requires quick setup, stability and stellar performance.

Cisco 9120AX Catalyst WiFi 6 Access Point

Cisco 9120axi 9120axe ap
Fig. Cisco 9120ax access points

Cisco states that “Going beyond the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard, the 9120AX Series provides integrated security, resiliency, and operational flexibility as well as increased network intelligence.” With 4×4:4 dual 5 GHz capable radios, the company is targeting Cisco 9120 AX series access points at medium to high density Enterprise business deployments. The customers can expect stability, security and next-gen network management features from this access point.

Cisco 9120AX access points come with both internal (Cisco 9120AXI) and external antenna( Cisco 9120AXE / Cisco 9120AXP ) options. Cisco 9120AXP supports 13 dBi external antennas.

Cisco 9120AX Highlights

  • High Efficiency WiFi 6 Standard (802.11ax)
  • Cisco RF ASIC (Cisco DNA Radio)
  • Flexible Radio Assignment
  • Smart Antenna Connector
  • Apple iOS Fast Lane
  • Embedded Wireless Controller (EWC)
  • Cisco DNA support
  • BLE 5.0 support for IoT
  • WPA3 security standard

>Related Post< Cisco 9115AX WiFi-6 High Performance AP

Description of Feature Highlights

Cisco 9120AX AP comes with WiFi 6

WiFi 6 or 802.11ax is a “High Efficiency” standard intended to improve the efficiency of WiFi and make it more reliable and stable for WiFi communications. Our in-depth article on the top exciting WiFi 6 features can be referred for further understanding of 802.11ax WiFi 6 technology. Cisco 9120AX is Wi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™ and can also extend support to client stations using previous legacy standards.


Cisco 9120AX access point features Uplink/Downlink Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA), a technology borrowed from the mobile phone industry. OFDMA vastly improves upon the existing OFDM technology used in WiFi APs. It allows multiple clients to share WiFi channels. This feature can relieve congestion in crowded offices as 802.11 ax stations need not wait to get access to a full channel and instead share the channel with others and get things done.

OFDMA can make the whole WLAN efficient as clients devices with smaller loads that form the bulk of wireless communications can quickly transmit data. Though this feature can only be fully utilized in an environment having only 802.11ax clients, legacy clients can also experience an upside as the air will clear out quickly due to efficient communications happening in 802.11ax ecosystem.


Downlink MU-MIMO (4 streams per radio, total 8 streams) helps the AP to communicate with multiple clients simultaneously. This helps the stations to get quick access to the Access Point, thereby increasing the number of clients that can be served by the AP. This feature generally improves airtime efficiency and speed for all the clients.

1024 QAM

This Cisco WiFi 6 AP can support 1024 QAM, which means faster data communications than currently possible. But to achieve such speeds, noise free environments will be needed along with closer ranges between access points and clients. Such requirements make it practically impossible to achieve the stated speeds in crowded environments that need constant wireless spectrum management.

BSS Coloring

This Cisco 9120AX AP supports BSS Coloring feature of the WiFi 6 standard. BSS Coloring feature has been carried forward from the 802.11ah “Wi-Fi HaLow” standard and it identifies each access point in a WLAN with a unique identifier called ‘color’. This helps client stations to safely ignore communications in neighboring access points with a different color and below a threshold power level, and keep transmitting. This speeds up communications as clients need not stop data transfers to access points due to transmissions happening else where in the WLAN network in the same channel. This greatly helps to overcome limitations posed on wireless communications by existing co-channel interference safe guards.

Target Wake Time

Target Wake Time is another feature inspired from the 802.11ah IoT standard. This feature helps the access point to wake up clients based on a pre-negotiated time interval to receive data. The clients can sleep during other times, helping them to save battery. This feature can greatly help customers choosing this access point for IoT applications.

Cisco 9120AX with Cisco RF ASIC

Cisco 9120AX series access points have a dedicated RF ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) chipset (Cisco DNA Radio) for RF analytics. The chipset is made up of one ASIC and one RFIC chip. This chipset has its own dedicated antenna.

This RF ASIC is useful for a variety of dedicated operations like multi-band granular spectrum analysis (16 simultaneous interference pulse detection) , dual DFS filtering for improved accuracy, zero-wait DFS, high accuracy client location detection, rogue detection and mitigation (WIDS/WIPS) and off-channel RRM.

Cisco RF ASIC Chip Image
Fig. Cisco RF ASIC Chip (Image Courtesy: Cisco)

Since the RF analytics is decoupled from the client serving systems of the access point, the AP performance is not compromised during analysis activities. This can vastly improve the throughput, security and overall user experience of a WLAN.

Flexible Radio Assignment

Cisco 9120AX has a total of 4 radios. One XOR flexible radio that switches between 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz, one dedicated 5 GHz radio, one IoT radio and one ASIC radio. The Flexible Radio Assignment (FRA) software feature in 9120AX can intelligently switch the wireless radio features. It can automatically operate the radios in the following modes as per need noticed in a WLAN.

  • 2.4 GHz + 5 GHz client serving radios
  • 5 GHz + 5 GHz client serving radios (Dual 5 GHz)

In dual 5 GHz client serving mode, 2.4 GHz is disabled in the XOR radio when its 5 GHz is enabled.

The access points can be enabled to automatically detect requirements like sudden increase of user density. Once detected, it can temporarily switch the access points to dual 5 GHz mode to serve more clients. After the density gets normalized, the access points will return to default mode.

This feature can help resolve bandwidth issues faced by users when they quickly congregate for large floor-wide or company wide meetings. Usually, in such a scenario the IT admin needs to manually change the access point settings to handle abnormal loads on some access points. But with FRA feature, the access points can handle such situations themselves, thus relieving the IT team from random configuration work.

Smart Antenna Connector

Cisco 9120axe DART connector
Fig. Cisco 9120 axe DART connector extensions (Image Courtesy: Cisco)

Cisco 9120AXE can be connected to any supported RP-TNC connector-type external antenna through the Smart Antenna Connector Port available on the AP. Omni-directional or directional antennas can be connected to the AP using a DART cable connector to extend WLAN coverage to different areas in a site.

The Smart Antenna Connector port is directly connected to the XOR flexible radio inside the AP. When no DART cable is connected, the AP is in normal dual band mode. But when a DART cable is plugged into the AP, the secondary 5 GHz radio or if needed the 2.4 GHz radio will be available only through the connector port. The 2.4 GHz radio will be auto shutoff from the top of the AP and only the primary 5 GHz will be available there.

Apple iOS Fast Lane

The Apple iOS Fast Lane feature, developed from the partnership between Cisco and Apple, helps iOS 10+ applications get priority in WiFi communications. This provides better service levels to end users having Apple iOS products. Fast Lane can help organizations using Cisco 9120AX to provide better WiFi connectivity to customers using Apple devices and delight them.

Embedded Wireless Controller (EWC)

Cisco 9120AX access points contains Embedded Wireless Controller (EWC). Cisco has embedded Cisco 9800 controller software to simplify management of access points while retaining highest levels of security, performance and controls. Cisco claims that EWC embedded APs can help “simplify complexity, optimize IT, and reduce operational costs by leveraging intelligence, automation, and human expertise that no other vendor can deliver”. Upto 100 access points and upto 2000 clients can be managed with EWC, where primary and backup controllers can also be configured for resiliency purpose. EWC can work together with Cisco DNA to offer additional features for customers. Cisco DNA license will be a required purchase for multi-site management using EWC.

Cisco 9120AX supports Cisco DNA

Cisco 9120AX access points support Cisco Digital Network Architecture (DNA). Cisco DNA automates manual tasks and provides a centralized view of the network for enhanced management and security. “Cisco DNA automation capabilities transform previously manual on-boarding, configuration, provisioning, and software management processes”. Cisco DNA capable access points like 9120AX can be on-boarded, managed, monitored and its various tasks automated through a centralized dashboard. The Cisco DNA service is currently available in 3 subscription tiers: Cisco DNA Essentials, Cisco DNA Advantage, and Cisco DNA Premier.

IoT Capabilities

This Cisco AP has a dedicated on-board radio to support BLE 5.0 stations for IoT . This eliminates the need to deploy additional infrastructure for certain IoT services. It can be useful in environments where IoT needs to be implemented in a cost effective way. The AP also provides container support for IoT applications.

WPA3 security

WPA3 is the latest security standard approved by WiFi Alliance for keeping WiFi communications secure. WPA3 tackles the shortcomings of its predecessor WPA2 in encrypting data transfers and has been in use since 2018. WPA3 was a major update to WiFi security after 14 years since WPA2 was launched in 2004.

>Related Post< Extreme performance Cisco 9130 Access Point 

Cisco Catalyst 9120 AX Features Summary

PropertyCisco 9120 AXI/AXE/AXP
Radio Hardware1x 2.4 GHz/5 GHz XOR Flexible Radio (4x4:4),
1x 5 GHz Radio (4x4:4),
1x 2.4 GHz BLE 5 Radio,
1x RF ASIC Radio
Wireless FeatureConcurrent Dual Band (2.4 GHz/5 GHz),
Flexible Radio Assignment (FRA): Dual 5 GHz
IoT SupportBluetooth BLE 5.0, Container support for IoT applications
Data SpeedUp to 5.38 Gbps (2.4 GHz at 20 MHz & 5 GHz at 160 MHz combined); Upto 5.2 Gbps (Dual 5 GHz)
Resource UtilizationOFDMA (Uplink/Downlink), MU-MIMO (4x4:4 Downlink)
User ExperienceBSS Coloring, iOS Fast Lane, Wi-Fi Agile Multiband™, WMM®
Interference HandlingCisco RF ASIC, Cisco CleanAir, DFS Detection, Transmit Beamforming
SecuritywIPS, Cisco Trust Anchor Technology, WPA3, WPA2, Wi-Fi Enhanced Open™
AP ManagementEmbedded Wireless Controller (EWC), Virtual Wireless Controller, Hardware controllers Catalyst 9800, 3500, 5520, 8540, Cisco DNA Support with Intelligent Capture
Ethernet Ports1x2.5 GHz Ethernet Port - IEEE 802.3bz
Other Ports1xRJ45 Console Port, 1xUSB 2.0 Port
Antenna9120AXI - Internal,
9120AXE & 9120AXP - External / Smart Antenna Connector
Power-up Options802.3at(PoE+)/802.3bt Cisco Universal PoE : Fully functional ;
802.3af(PoE) - 1x1 Radios, 1GbE Port, No USB
Max Power ConsumptionFully functional w/USB - 25.5W
Green Features (Energy Saving)Target Wake Time (TWT), WMM® - Power Save
Certified Wi-Fi StandardsWi-Fi CERTIFIED 6™
Safety ComplianceUL 2043, UL/EN/IEC/AS/NZS/CAN/CSA-C22.2 No. 60950-1
Manufacturer Quote"Going beyond the Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) standard, the 9120AX Series provides integrated security, resiliency, and operational flexibility as well as increased network intelligence."

>Related Post< Best WiFi 6 Access Points For Enterprise WLAN – Comparison Table


Cisco 9120AX WiFi 6 AP has many standards based & proprietary features that will appeal to moderate and high density enterprise locations, branch offices and remote sites. WiFi 6 technology, Cisco RF ASIC, Cisco DNA support, Flexible Radio assignment, Smart Antenna Connector, IoT support, WPA3 authentication, EWC, Apple iOS fast lane etc makes this an excellent option for Enterprises looking to upgrade to the latest WiFi standard.


Note: All Product/Company/Standards/Bodies names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.The product features mentioned in this article are not exhaustive or final. For a full list of current capabilities, kindly contact the vendor or its local representative in your region.