Aruba is opening up its access-point source code through a new certification programme. The code will let its switches manage other vendors' access points (APs) - starting with Netgear.

The decision contrasts with its rival, Airespace, which Cisco agreed to buy in January: "Cisco is not committed to interoperability," said Keerti Melkote, Aruba's marketing VP. This means other vendors can sell their interoperability with rivals as an advantage over Airespace, he argued.

Wi-Fi switch vendor, and Aruba/Airespace rival, Trapeze, is expected to follow with a similar announcement.

The company is putting some of its AP source code on SourceForge [Update: The code has now been posted here - Editor]. Vendors whose access points are based on the Atheros radio silicon and the PowerPC chipset will be able to use that code to convert their APs into Aruba APs, which can work with an Aruba switch to handle functions like RF monitoring, radio management and intrusion prevention. Functions like transmit power level, and radio channel selection are handled under the control of the Aruba switch.

Vendors will install boot code that lets an AP seek out an Aruba switch on the network when it is turned on, advertise its functions, and download firmware that lets it take part in an Aruba-managed network. The AP will then be tested by Aruba and given an "Aruba Certified" interoperability mark.

The move marks an ultimate acceptance that Access point hardware will become a commodity, and Wi-Fi switch vendors can't charge a premium for proprietary APs for ever. "We want to give more power to enterprise customers to source APs from anywhere," said Melkote. "For instance, there are localised APs, which are specific to certain countries."

Previous efforts to link multi-vendor APs have focussed on a proposed IETF standard called CAPWAP, and its precursor, the LWAPP protocol proposed by Airespace. "This is not CAPWAP, it's an independent Aruba programme," said Melkote. He agreed that it overlapped with the bootstrapping part of the CAPWAP proposals, and would need to be updated if and when a full CAPWAP standard emerged.

"The CAPWAP group has only done the taxonomy," said Melkote. "We want to get on with multi-vendor interoperability sooner. If we have a CAPWAP standard, we would expect to update this." He suggested that downloading software to the AP might work better than imposing a protocol on it, creating a set-up that is easier to evolve with new functions.

The APs that get the Aruba treatment will be enterprise models, not consumer products. They will be the standard products, however, and sold at the usual price, said Melkote. Netgear is expected to have its first AP certified in about a month's time.

Although Atheros/PowerPC APs are the first target, Aruba intends to expand the plan to include other vendors like Broadcom, said Melkote. It might even allow new technologies like MIMO to emerge in enterprise networks more quickly, he said - although the fact that 802.11n is not yet a standard might make users cautious.

Allowing other APs to perform as well its own could eventually spell the end of Aruba's own APs: "We might stop making APs when our volumes are dwarfed by partner APs," he said. "We need to stay in on the curve with radio technology."