IETF surges with interoperable WLAN switches, APs

Members at the Internet Engineering Task Force’s meeting in Vienna, Austria, Friday voted to create a formal working group to craft an Internet standard for letting stripped-down wireless LAN radios interact with back-end switches.

The Lightweight Access Point Protocol (LWAPP) is a project backed by several WLAN "switch" vendors. The idea is to implement a standard protocol that will let different brands of wireless switches and access points communicate over the corporate LAN. Network executives will be able, in theory, to select any combination of access points and back-end switches they wish.

In Vienna, the IETF approved the creation of a working group, which will be charged with drafting a final proposal for eventual IETF adoption. A critical recent addition to the original draft, which was authored in part by Airespace Inc., NTT DoCoMo Inc., and Cisco Systems Inc., is the introduction of Layer 3 capabilities in the protocol.

"With a routable protocol, users can install their (WLAN) switch, and distribute the radios. As long as there is an IP net between them, the access points can find their way back to the switch," says Paul DeBeasi, vice president of Legra Systems, whose engineers contributed to the routing feature in the draft accepted by the IETF.

The access point and switch vendors, including wired switch makers such as Extreme Networks Inc., that are adding wireless support into their existing product lines, will eventually write code for the LWAPP protocol in their products, says Alan Cohen, vice president of marketing for Airespace.

The IETF ratification process could last well into 2004. If vendors remain true to past practice, they may introduce early versions of LWAPP, or of parts of it, as these win support in the IETF. One open question remaining is how, or whether, products will be certified as LWAPP compliant.

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