3Com Launches Devices for Sending Power via Networks

New switch and IP phone supports draft Ethernet interoperability standard

3Com Corp. last week announced a switch that provides electrical power over Ethernet wiring and interoperates with new IP telephones and wireless LAN access devices, freeing users of those products from the need to have separate power cables.

Networking devices that support Power Over Ethernet technology began appearing two years ago and are already being offered by 3Com, Cisco Systems Inc. and other vendors. But all the new 3Com products adhere to a draft interoperability standard called IEEE 802.3af, said Doug Hyde, a product manager at the Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor.

Nick Lippis, an analyst at Lippis Consulting in Hingham, Mass., said 3Com's new switch and its companion devices are the first products to become available that adhere to the proposed 802.3af standard.

The chief benefit of Power Over Ethernet is that it eliminates the need to connect IP telephones and WLAN access points to power outlets, Lippis said. Companies that use the technology don't need to run power lines to the devices, resulting in fewer wires running over or under desks, he added.

3Com said its 24-port Power Over Ethernet switch, called the SuperStack 3 Switch 4400 PWR, forwards electrical power at low wattages to connected devices. The company plans to add new Power Over Ethernet phones in May and is already shipping a converter module that will let its existing IP telephones work with the new switch instead of requiring power adapters.

Nothing to Unplug

Three new WLAN access devices can also be connected to the switch to get power so they can be placed on ceilings or other locations where power cables and outlets aren't readily available, Hyde said.

Ventura Unified School District in Ventura, Calif., earlier this month began beta-testing the 4400 PWR switch to provide power to some of the 1,200 3Com NBX IP phones it has installed at 22 sites.

Ted Malos, the district's director of technology, said Ethernet power is a "must-have" for the schools. If there's no need to use the power outlets in classrooms, there's no possibility that students will unplug the phones, he noted.

Malos said the school district plans to standardize its future switch purchases on the new 3Com devices, which will also be used to power a new wireless network that's due to be phased in this year. "The switch gives us incentive to go to wireless," he said.

Ethernet switching is a huge market, valued at $10.8 billion worldwide last year, according to Dell'Oro Group Inc. in Redwood City, Calif. But Power Over Ethernet sales are "still very small" and have yet to even be measured, said Julie Learmond-Criqui, a spokeswoman for Dell'Oro.

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Technology Details

3Com's Power Over Ethernet Devices

SuperStack 3 Switch 4400 PWR: Includes 24 ports; due to ship in April for $2,495

NBX phones: Enhanced IP telephones with 802.3af support; due in May for $500 to $700

Converter module: Lets older NBX phones work with the new switch; available now for $30

Wireless LAN access points: Three models; due this month and priced from $749 to $1,099

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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