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Cisco Goes WLCCP-Happy

Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) is moving towards a more centralized wireless LAN strategy using its Wireless LAN Context Control Protocol (WLCCP).

WLCPP is a key part of Cisco's "structured wireless-aware networked infrastructure enhancements" roadmap in 2004. The code defines how information is sent back and forth between Cisco's WLAN access points and software installed on other WLAN equipment such as the Cisco Wireless LAN Solution Engine (WLSE).

Cisco's Wireless Domain Server (WDS), which controls upper-level management functions and can be installed on dedicated access points, also uses the protocol. Cisco has plans to use this management software and the WLCPP on other pieces of WLAN equipment. The protocol enables features like rogue access point (AP) detection and fast roaming between different wireless LAN subnets.

In this manner, Cisco plans to enable its existing switches to control networks of access points via WLCCP (see Cisco's Path to Switchdom and Cisco's SWAN Song). "Today, a WDS server may be any IOS-based access point," says Ron Seide, product line manager for Cisco's wireless networking business. "In 2004, other IOS [internet operating system] devices like switches and access routers may be appointed as Wireless Domain Servers as well."

It's a interesting strategy -- and possibly dangerous for Cisco's startup competitors. Because startups don't have the power to push their own, proprietary protocols, Cisco could gain power in the market by popularizing its own such technology. If it gathers steam, Cisco could then standardize the protocol later, undermining other standard efforts employed by startups. Might WLCPP be one such "startup killer"?

Cisco says that it has no plans to try and standardize the protocol or introduce "skinny" access points -- like those introduced by rivals such as Airespace Inc. and Extreme Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: EXTR) -- that would be controlled via the WLCCP.

The bottom line, however is that WLCCP is a concept similar to the lightweight access point protocol (LWAPP) standards effort at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), which is being spearheaded by Airespace and was originally supported by Cisco. (see Access Point Tiff Simmers and Zorn Is Shorn ). Seide says Cisco has "no plans to submit WLCCP to the IETF at this time" but adds that the firm has worked with the body in the past and has "no issue with… multivendor interoperability in general."

It is, therefore, a move that could pose problems for small startups in the long run. The approach suits Cisco, which is the number one supplier of enterprise WLAN infrastructure and can expect customers to buy single supplier. Conversely, startups like Airespace have a vested interest in standardizing the process to ensure that third-party access points can take full advantage of its switch.

Siede says that he believes that customers want to ensure interoperability in a "heterogeneous client environment" but are "comfortable with a single vendor solution on the infrastructure side and are correspondingly insistent on rapid delivery of infrastructure features." Naturally, having protocols standardized by committee would tend to slow down the process.

Siede says that Cisco could use WLCCP to control "skinny" access points. "The distinction between a skinny access point and a fat or big-boned access point is meaningless," he claims. "But yes, at a conceptual level WLCCP [and] LWAPP/CAPWAP are similar in that they define interaction between an access point (endomorphic, ectomorphic, or otherwise) and a controller." There is no indication as yet though that the company plans to supplement its existing Aironet WLAN access points with a range of "skinny" siblings. A spokesperson for Cisco says that the company does not comment on products that it may -- or may not be -- working on.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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