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Do we need AP interoperability?

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It remains to be seen how the majority of wireless LAN infrastructures will be deployed in mainstream corporate offices. Will they emerge in a carefully managed, top-down approach championed by IT departments or as a bottom-up effort driven by business units?

In organizations where at least some degree of distributed purchasing decisions are made, access points (AP) from multiple vendors will likely creep into the mix, creating a degree of heterogeneity among the wireless network segment. In such cases, there might be more of a need than initially expected for a much-ignored IEEE 802.11 initiative called 802.11f.

The wireless LAN system vendor bigwigs tend to be dismissive of this emerging 802.11 standard. As one of the lesser-known ingredients in the alphabet soup of 802.11 wireless LAN specifications, 802.11f describes inter-AP communications among multivendor systems. " Why do you need it? " scoffed one Cisco wireless LAN marketing executive at a recent Wireless Communications Alliance meeting in Cupertino, Calif.

If you stick with one wireless LAN AP vendor exclusively, you don't. And that's what the big wireless LAN system vendors are betting on. Frankly, what with wireless being as tricky as it is, a single AP approach is indeed a good way to go, if you can manage it.

However, at the end of the day, even the biggest IT control freak can exert only so much power over thousands of employees. And company mergers and acquisitions will always play a role in disparate technologies coming together. So it's inevitable that somebody will eventually need 802.11f.

This technology handles the registration of APs within a network and the exchange of information when a user is roaming among coverage areas supported by different vendors' APs.  It will help with fast hand-off from AP to AP. The standard is expected to be final by the end of the year, and 802.11f-compliant products are expected in the first half of 2003.

RELATED LINKS

802.11f Task Group status

Wireless Communications Alliance

Joanie Wexler is an independent networking technology writer/editor in Campbell, Calif., who has spent most of her career analyzing trends and news in the computer networking industry. She welcomes your comments on the articles published in this newsletter, as well as your ideas for future article topics. Reach her at joanie@jwexler.com.

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