Two wireless LAN companies hope to revive standards efforts with a protocol for controlling access points. Chantry Networks and Propagate are proposing a protocol called CTP to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) - the standards group that handles network standards for routing and other issues.

The protocol, still in beta-test, could re-energise the drive for standards to control wireless access points, which would allow IT managers to build intelligent switched wireless networks without being tied to one vendor's equipment.

Last year, a group led by Airespace, put forward a suggestion that Airespace's own LWAPP protocol should be the basis for a standard. The IETF responded by setting up a group to look into it. However, the LWAPP group did not get the smooth transition to standards status, for which they had hoped.

The IETF set up a group under the more cumbersome title, Control and Provisioning of Wireless Access Points (CAPWAP). And it is only a study group, aiming to analyse different models of how WLAN access points should connect to network switches, and be managed by the network. CAPWAP might turn into a standards-making group at some point, but can't start on a standards track until after its initial document comes out in July.

CTP (CAPWAP Tunneling Protocol) aims to let WLAN gear organise itself into coherent radio networks. Propagate's AutoCell product adds intelligence to access points and switches, and the company has been quietly doing deals with several wireless vendors, which overall promote the idea that much of the proprietary hardware in the WLAN industry can be replaced with software running on multi-vendor equipment.

As well as Chantry, Propagate has done deals with wireless security gateway rivals ReefEdge and Bluesocket. In the Bluesocket deal, announced in December 2003, Propagate software combines with Bluesocket gear and cheap Netgear access points to make a solution claimed to rival wireless switch based systems such as those from Trapeze or Airespace.

Wireless switch vendor Chantry, recently upgraded its line, which is based on routed IP.

The pair hopes to avoid the objections which stymied LWAPP as a standard, by covering broader ground, including other radio technologies besides 802.11 Wi-Fi. "We want to support different radio technologies at the edge of the net," says Bob Myers, Chantry chief technical officer. CTP will also include a way for access points and switches to swap information about their features and capabilities as well as support for different topologies such as direct connections between wireless nodes.

However, it would be unwise to write LWAPP off too quickly. "We have support from D-Link, Nortel, Alcatel and NEC," said Alan Cohen, Airespace marketing VP. "We are working actively at the IETF." However, the deals with Nortel and Alcatel both sell the Airespace access points. The D-Link deal is the only example so far of an access point management protocol on a third party's access points, and so far it has no scheduled delivery date.

LWAPP is the only published protocol for access point management at the moment. CTP may at least be a response to that challenge. Whether it will be any more acceptable to the IETF remains to be seen.

CAPWAP or CLAPTRAP? Tell us in our forum, whether you think mix-and-match enterprise access points will ever be a reality.

John Cox, Network World, contributed to this article