Wireless switch standards war

It’s already received wisdom that the right way to build an enterprise WiFi network is with a small number of smart switches and a large number of dumb (and cheap) access points that do little more than act as remote radios for the switch. Symbol pioneered the concept, and now everybody else (especially switch and router companies like Cisco, Extreme, and Juniper,) has climbed on board. Is the industry ready to standardize a management protocol for dumb access points? These folks say yes:

Engineers from Airespace, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO – message board), and NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM – message board) have presented the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) with a memo proposing a standard protocol for controlling 802.11 “lightweight” or “thin” access points via a wireless LAN switch.

Following the trend towards wireless LAN switching that is happening in the industry, the authors are proposing a “standardized, interoperable” lightweight access point protocol (LWAPP) that can “radically simplify the deployment and management of wireless networks.”

But others, like Trapeze, the Extreme spin-off in Pleasanton funded by kiss-of-death VC Accel Partners, think not:

Like most draft standards, this one already has its critics. Trapeze Networks Inc., for example, questions the need to develop a lightweight protocol at all. “If you architect your system correctly? then why do you need it?” asks George Prodan, senior VP of worldwide marketing at Trapeze.

Prediction (worth what you paid for it): Cisco, Airespace, and NTT will win, Trapeze and Accel will lose, and this isn’t the end of wireless engineering, by a long shot. Airespace’s Systems Enginnering director, Bob O’Hara, has been a long-time leader in the 802.11 standards process, from the early days when Greg Ennis and Phil Belanger presented the DFWMAC amalgam of wireless protocols (including my Plink II) to the committee for approval, so this would be slam-dunk in that arena. He doesn’t have that kind of weight in the highly-political IETF, but Cisco does, and the idea has the added benefit of actually making sense, which still counts for something these days.