Bluetooth Switch, Anyone?

One of the authors of the lightweight access point protocol (LWAPP) memo currently before the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) says he sees the technology having a wide appeal to different wireless network architectures (see Access Point Tiff Simmers). The protocol, which allows "thin" wireless LAN access points to be controlled by wireless LAN switches, could be extended to other architectures, says Bob O'Hara, director of systems engineering at WLAN switch startup Airespace Inc. He sees it working in wide-area wireless networks, Bluetooth short-range connections, and 802.11 networks. "There has been a focus on 802.11… but there really are a large number of different directions that this [protocol] might go," he says. However, O'Hara acknowledges that broadening the range of technologies that the protocol can be applied to could take quite a long time. "An evolution to that degree will probably involve a couple of iterations."

As it stands, the LWAPP memo, which was co-authored by engineers from Airespace, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), describes a protocol that may be used to connect stripped-down or "dumb" access points to a WLAN switch, centralizing "bridging, forwarding and policy enforcement functions for a WLAN."

O'Hara expects that it will be at least nine to 15 months before the IETF memo results in a standard for 802.11 lightweight access points. "The IETF used to be a relatively streamlined process," he says. "Now it has got quite a bit more political, like the IEEE... because the standards that result from the process are make-or-break for the companies involved." O'Hara, it should be noted, is one of the chairs of the 802.11f working group in the IEEE (see IEEE Plots Speedier WLAN).

Indeed, there are already some critics of the largely Airespace-driven IETF standards push. Another wireless LAN switch startup Trapeze Networks Inc. told Unstrung yesterday that there was no need for an additional wireless LAN protocol and that the draft didn't prioritize voice traffic over data packets at the access point, making it difficult for the system to support voice over IP.

O'Hara disagrees, saying that the draft as it stands can actually handle VOIP. "It certainly is possible, we do actually provide for that."

However, O'Hara acknowledges that, as one of the authors of the report, he may be "too close" to the document and that others should comment: "It may not have been clear," he allows. IETF rules describe an "Internet-draft" memo as "an evolving working document readily available to a wide audience, facilitating the process of review and revision."

— Dan Jones, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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