Wireless switch vendor Trapeze has announced a scheme to manage other vendors' access points. It will begin selling a new D-Link access point in April, and promises that its Open Access Point Initiative will integrate many other existing APs, before an eventual standard emerges.

"Our announcement makes available hundreds of thousands of access points that can be upgraded to work with Trapeze," said Michael Coci, director of technical marketing at Trapeze, who added that his company has been integrating multi-vendor access points, since its OEM deal with 3Com, has a Chinese partner, and hopes to announce two more partners this month.

"We can already do some management of third party APs in Ringmaster [Trapeze's software]," said Coci. "OAPI will add subnet roaming, key management, VLAN functions, client statistics and location services. Ninety-eight percent of all 3Com access points sold today can be upgraded to Trapeze APs."

By contrast, he said, Aruba will achieve far fewer functions, on a narrower range of hardware, by allowing other vendors to use its boot code, now posted on SourceForge, on APs that are identical to Aruba hardware.

Multi-vendor WLANs are hot, because Cisco is integrating multiple AP architectures - both of which it owns. Since its acquisition of Airespace in January. Cisco is expected to revive the LWAPP protocol, a multi-vendor AP protocol that Airespace attempted to promote a year and more ago. Read our analysis of moves to open up WLANs.

Trapeze partner D-Link is a former LWAPP sponsor: it announced an LWAPP access point more than a year ago, but was showing no inclination whatever to deliver it, even before Cisco made it pointless by buying Airespace.

"OAPI will broaden users' options, beyond our indoor APs," said Coci. It introduces a layer of software between the AP and its radio, so new radios and different APs can be created. "There are a lot of companies out there who have AP expertise, that could benefit form the Trapeze switch. Some will provide APs with outdoor enclosures. It's also radio agnostic, and in future could allow access points based on 802.11n, WiMax or other radio layers."

OAPI is somewhat like the CAPWAP proposal, but Coci sees it as a way to get features into the market earlier. "We hope to see something useful come out of CAPWAP, and we're contributing code, but we won't see anything useful from that for some time."

"You could make a parallel with WPA [the spec launched by the Wi-Fi Alliance in advance of the 802.11i security standard]," he said. "The market is clamouring for interoperability and OAPI is a workable real implementation, of what CAPWAP is trying to achieve."

Of course, since WPA was a multi-vendor agreement, and an implementation of a draft standard, that's actually a pretty distant parallel.

Confused? You won't be when you've read our analysis of the mix-and-match WLAN world. Or at least, not quite so confused...