3Com offering bridges wireless gaps

With the adoption of wireless networks on the rise, many an enterprise is seeking alternative ways to extend the reach of its wireless coverage without the headache of tearing down walls.

Last month, Santa Clara, Calif.-based 3Com Corp. announced the availability of its 11Mbps Wi-Fi certified Wireless Workgroup Bridge, which the company said offers cost-effective wired-to-wireless bridging for any Ethernet-enabled device to any Wi-Fi certified wireless LAN infrastructure.

By connecting the new Workgroup Bridge to a wireless access point, 3Com said enterprises can achieve wireless connectivity for up to four Ethernet-enabled devices including PCs, printers and phones.

“We have found that customers have more than one device that they were looking to connect to,” said 3Com Canada’s David Morelli, communications manager. “We created this one with the ability to connect up to four Ethernet-enabled devices to the port. What this creates is a mini-workgroup. A lot of the same benefits from our earlier (workgroup bridge) are enhanced because you can add more clients to the wireless network.”

Morelli noted that the bridge is well suited for so-called hard-to-wire places like older buildings.

“Customers are looking for a simple way to connect to their wireless network without sacrificing speed,” he said. “That is why adopting the Wi-Fi standard for the workgroup is important; one because it is 11Mbps and two, because it will work with a number of other Wi-Fi-enabled products out there.”

Not only does the bridge allow for speed and interoperability, Morelli said, but it also supports both 40-bit Wired Equivalent Privacy (WEP) and 128-bit shared key encryption to protect customer information. The bridge also comes with an internal Web server, which simplifies configuration, monitoring and management locally or remotely using an Internet browser.

Morelli said that the Wi-Fi certified bridge would be ideal for school and airport environments where cost is an issue.

“Many airports have wireless capabilities, but not every passenger has a wireless PC card in their notebook,” he said. “This gives them the ability to simply plug into a workgroup bridge without needing that card. All they need is an Ethernet connection. 3Com is trying to maintain its promise of simplicity by making it simple for somebody to connect to a wireless network without a lot of necessary equipment.”

Gemma Paulo, industry analyst with Cahners In-Stat in Scottsdale, Ariz., said that she is not surprised that 3Com has developed a workgroup bridge with Wi-Fi certification, a move that shows its strong efforts in continuing the fight for interoperability.

“This is something that 3Com needs in their product line in order to compete against anybody else,” Paulo said. “I know that a lot of other vendors have Wi-Fi bridges, but whether they are certified or not is another story. This type of bridge is widespread among vertical (markets) because they have older hardware that they want to get onto their wireless networks.”

The 11Mbps Wireless LAN Workgroup Bridge is expected to ship this month at a list price of $525. For more information, visit the company online at www.3com.com.