3Com takes aim at WLAN switch arena

3Com Corp. has been gaining market share in the enterprise wireless LAN market, but industry watchers say it needs a WLAN switch to sustain that growth and compete with Cisco Systems Inc. at the high end of the market.

3Com officials have hinted for months that a WLAN switch is coming, though they have declined to say whether the Marlboro, Mass.-based company will retrofit its wired switches, resell products from one of a half-dozen start-ups or acquire one of those companies.

Speculation has swirled that 3Com and WLAN switch maker Trapeze Networks Inc. were close to a reseller deal. A source at a rival WLAN company says the deal has been finalized and could be announced this week.

Trapeze and 3Com declined any comment. Officials at two other WLAN switch companies, speaking on condition of anonymity, say 3Com previously talked with them about reselling their gear. Nothing came of those talks.

In the past few quarters, 3Com has been hewing out sales and market share gains in the small to midsize enterprise market with WLAN adapter cards and aggressively priced access points designed for fast, easy and secure deployment.

"They've been in WLANs for a long time, and they have a reasonably complete product line," says Craig Mathias, principal at Farpoint Group.

As of April, 3Com led the market for enterprise WLAN client shipments, with 27%. Cisco had 18%, and Symbol Technologies Inc. 14%, according to quarterly figures from Synergy Research. 3Com also had 16.5% of shipments of all enterprise WLAN infrastructure products (mainly access points), good enough for second place. Cisco held the lion's share, with 46%; Symbol was third, with 12%.

It has been only since late last year that WLAN switches started to ship from vendors in any quantity, with their companion thin access points. For example, Symbol has completely turned away from traditional WLANs, built of distributed, intelligent access points, to an architecture with a central switch managing stripped-down access points, little more than WLAN radios.

"3Com needs a switch-based architecture," says Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner Inc. "3Com has been weak in this area."

A solid 3Com switch offering could be an attractive alternative to Cisco's still-evolving WLAN strategy, which is based on the company's core IOS software and requires heavy investments in premium-priced access points, new switch modules and other management software and appliances. "Cisco is pretty high-end [WLAN] stuff," Dulaney says.

"The LAN is carrying more varieties of traffic, and more of the traffic is coming from wireless [devices]," says Steve Parker, product manager at 3Com's wireless systems group. "3Com will move into a position of managing wireless traffic. And it requires switching technology to do that."

Freddie Manint, CIO for the 19th Judicial District Court of Appeals in Baton Rouge, La., says he likes 3Com's approach. The court serves as a criminal and legal data repository and disseminator for an array of state and federal agencies. The court uses 3Com for its network infrastructure, based on the 7700 and 4924 3Com switches.

"For the most part, they're right on point," Manint says. One thing that caught his attention is 3Com's early commitment to Advanced Encryption Standard (AES), generally regarded as the most powerful encryption algorithm. To Manint, the AES support makes clear 3Com's intent to demonstrate that security is a fundamental part of its WLAN product line.

The need for that assurance is why the court doesn't yet have a WLAN. Manint is running a pilot based on 3Com's product line.

"3Com wants to get back into the large-enterprise space," says Stan Schatt, a vice president at Forrester Research Inc. "To do that, they'll need a whole new set of [WLAN] stuff. They're not selling to those guys with the products they have today."

This story, "3Com takes aim at WLAN switch arena" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon