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Wireless Controller vs Mobility Express??

I'm testing out Cisco's Mobility Express on a 3802i and am running into "gotcha" moments that I wasn't expecting. I'm hoping some of you more experienced people on here can help guide me through and find solutions if they exist.

Goal: I'm considering replacing my WLC5508 with a 3802i running ME.

To start... getting MGMT up and running on a trunk port was fun (has to be native vlan). Not to mention you need DHCP enabled on mgmt so the underlying AP can actually join and the system to not just sit still.

I now have the 3802i up and running and have a couple AP's joined to it (few hours spent before I realized I have to configure a TFTP server on ME that has the software the slave AP's require).

I created vlan 2074 and trunked it to the ME AP, created a WLAN on that VLAN and everything worked.

Disabled the radios on the ME AP to see if I could connect through the Slave AP. But it looks like the slave doesn't send the traffic back through the CAPWAP tunnel to the Master as it does in the WLC. Is that something that's configurable or am I stuck trunking the vlan's to every AP I have configured (administration overhead).

That's as far as I've gotten so far, if anyone else has tips or tricks that might help me along the way, please let me know.


VIP Mentor

You do not mention how many and which APs you have. But I would not move from a legacy controller to a system that could also already be named legacy (Mobility Express).


I would look into two primary solutions (assuming your wireless deployment is not that big):

  • Embedded WLC on the Catalyst 9100: That will not be a solution if you still have to support older 1700/2700/3700 APs
  • virtual Controller 9800-CL: Here the older APs are still supported.

In both cases, the way you work with the WLAN will change as the configuration is very different. But these are the actual systems from Cisco.


I suggest a good read through all the ME documentation - it's all there.
Specifically regarding your question about central/local switching ...
What features are supported on Cisco Mobility Express when compared to appliance-based wireless LAN controllers?
Mobility Express is based on the Flex architecture and supports central authentication and local switching of data traffic. For a list and comparison of features, please refer to the feature matrix at:

And in that feature matrix, Table 11 second row (Central Switching) you'll see it's No for all ME. So yes you will have to trunk those vlan's to every AP for flexconnect local switching :) You can't seriously expect 1 AP to carry the traffic from up to 100 APs and 2000 clients (which is ME max scale).

As Karsten says ME really is legacy (AireOS is coming to end of life soon) so the modern equivalent is EWC on Cat 9100 AP.
Look at the 9800 WLC range - maybe one of the smaller WLCs could suit your needs.
Hall of Fame Master

Just to add along with the others, seems like you learned ME the hard way, but figured it out. Now the guides does explain all the gotchas that you actually ran into. ME and controllers are a different design and that is what you need to consider. Also the amount of time you probably spent getting this to work, you probably still need to test stability, how to upgrade and downgrade, what happens during a failover, etc. that being said, is it worth doing since Cisco is moving away from that? No... like the others mentioned, if you are familiar with controllers, then look at the 9800’s. The 9800-L replaces the 5508 and is a small fanless unit. If you want to trunk every ap and migrate from ME, then look at the EWC 9100 AP’s with controller function. That is a lot better than ME and I never liked ME. Start looking into the 9800’s is my suggestion as that is where Cisco is investing their $$. Heck... the 9800-CL which runs as a VM is a free download, spin that up and take a look... read the guides and the faq so you don’t run into any gotchas.
Access point management always and still needs to be in native vlan on trunk ports... keep that in mind.
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Mobility Express uses FlexConnect Local Switching. You will need trunk on all APs to be able to place the clients on their correct VLANs.

The Master AP does not have the hardware needed to handle centralized traffic.

If that such a problem, just go with a 5508 WLC.