With the recent acquisition of Airespace by 800-pound networking gorilla Cisco, the pressure is on smaller wireless LAN switch makers Aruba and Trapeze to promote a vendor neutral wireless LAN switch standard called SLAPP (Secure Light Weight Access Point Protocol). Even though Cisco was adamantly against the wireless LAN switch architecture, which uses "dumb" access points that are controlled and aggregated through a central intelligent switch, Cisco reversed itself the minute it bought Airespace. While it may be fun to make jokes about the obvious hypocrisy on the part of Cisco, no one can deny that the acquisition was, strategically, a stroke of genius. What isn't funny is what's going to happen to all of Cisco's competitors if they can't come together on an interoperable standard soon because Cisco will become the de facto standard for wireless LAN switching.
Prior to Cisco's acquisition, Airespace had been the fastest growing wireless LAN infrastructure equipment maker in the world, quickly rising to the position of third right behind number one Cisco and a distant second Symbol. Even though it's very unusual for a small start-up to beat a well-established and dominant incumbent in the market, Airespace was still managing to beat out Cisco in many large RFPs -- including the much coveted Microsoft campus project. It was simply a matter of Airespace architecture being so superior to anything Cisco had offered that even incumbency couldn't save Cisco's aging Aironet line of wireless LAN products from a thorough beating. With the acquisition of Airespace, however, Cisco is incorporating the hottest wireless technology on the market into its massively dominant Aironet line of products that already control more than 50 percent of the wireless access point market.
Symbol is the company that originally pioneered the wireless LAN switching architecture and is currently still the market leader in the wireless switch space, but this could soon change. Once Cisco adds Airespace LWAPP (Airespace's proprietary Lightweight Access Point Protocol) capability to its existing Aironet products (a top priority for Cisco, according to my sources), Cisco would quickly become the largest wireless LAN switch maker as well. Unfortunately for the other wireless LAN switch makers, their combined market share is dwarfed by Cisco Aironet and Airespace. Symbol still insists that their "pure" switch architecture -- where the access point is directly connected to the wireless switch -- is the way to go. (As the pioneer of wireless LAN switching, Symbol believes it gets to define what a wireless switch should look like.) Unfortunately, Symbol's rigid architecture isn't always practical in the real world, since you don't always have the luxury of laying new cabling just so you can plug your wireless access point into your wireless switch. Besides, if they can't hammer out a standard with the other switch makers soon, Cisco will be having all of them for lunch.