Easily Convert Cisco Autonomous – Standalone AP to Lightweight Mode & Register it to a Cisco WLC Controller

cisco wireless controller ap conversionThis article explains how to convert a local or remote Autonomous / Standalone Cisco Aironet Access Point to Lightweight and register it to a Cisco WLC Controller. Included are detailed steps, commands, full text logs of the conversion process and screenshots to ensure an easy and successful upgrade – WLC registration.

Topics covered in this article:

Restrictions & Considerations when Converting Autonomous APs to Lightweight Mode

Converting an Autonomous AP to Lightweight Mode is a straight forward process however it is important to keep a few things in mind before performing the conversion procedure as there are some restrictions users should be aware of.

Depending on the level of experience some of these notes/restrictions might be considered basic or redundant knowledge. For sake of simplicity we are presenting them in bullet format:

  • All Cisco lightweight access points are capable of supporting up to 16 BSSIDs per radio and a total of 16 WLANs per access point.
  • Access points converted to lightweight mode require a DHCP server to obtain an IP address and discover the WLC via DNS or IP broadcast.
  • Lightweight access points do not support Wireless Domain Services (WDS). All lightweight APs communicate with the WLC.
  • Lightweight AP console port provides read-only access to the AP.

The Different Type of Access Point Image Files (k9w8 & rcvk9w8)

Before we begin the conversion process it is necessary to download the CAPWAP software file that matches the Access Point to be converted. These files can be downloaded from Cisco’s website and usually require an active Smartnet contract. Alternatively, a search on the web might reveal other sources from which they can be downloaded.

There are two type of AP CAPWAP software files we can download and install:

  • Fully functional CAPWAP Image file (full image) – Identified by the k9w8 string in their filename and are usually large in size (10-20Mb). Once loaded, the AP is able to join the WLC and download its configuration. Example file name: ap3g1-k9w8-tar.152-4.JB6.tar
  • Recovery mode CAPWAP Image file – Identified by the rcvk9w8 string in their filename. These are smaller in size (5-8Mb) and used to help the AP boot and join the controller so it can then download the full image from the WLC. Example filename: ap3g1-rcvk9w8-tar.152-4.JB6.tar

Regardless of the type of image loaded during the conversion process, the AP will always download the full image from the WLC as soon as it joins. The only exception to this rule is when the fully functional CAPWAP image file loaded on the AP is the same version as the one contained in the WLC.

Cisco AP Autonomous to Lightweight Conversion Process

First download a fully functional or recovery mode CAPWAP file suitable for the AP model. In our example we will be converting a Cisco 3502 AP and decided to download the appropriate recovery mode file: ap3g1-rcvk9w8-tar.152-4.JB6.tar .


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