3Com ships high-speed wireless LAN products

3Com Canada Inc. became among the first 802.11b high-speed wireless LAN vendors to market when it began shipping its 3Com AirConnect 11Mbps Wireless LAN this month.

802.11b is the IEEE 11Mbps wireless LAN standard.

3Com is by no means the only vendor playing in the 11Mbps wireless LAN space. Cabletron Systems recently introduced its outdoor High Rate RoamAbout 11Mbps system, Cisco Systems last year announced its intention to acquire Aironet Wireless Communications, an 11Mbps wireless LAN manufacturer, Lucent Technologies has an 11Mbps wireless system, and vendors such as Apple, Compaq, Dell, IBM, Nokia and Symbol Technologies are, or will, be shipping 11Mbps products.

Ric Walford, 3Com Canada’s director of e-networking solutions, said the wireless LAN market is drawing more interest than in the past, because of the higher transfer speeds now available. Most older wireless LAN products operated at 2Mbps or less, were targeted at specific verticals, and were usually packaged with niche applications and OSes, he explained.

“What we’ve seen is there’s an increase in bandwidth and we’ve made it Ethernet,” Walford said. “So any application that runs across Ethernet can run across this wireless interface.”

3Com believes the wireless LAN will serve as an extension of an enterprise’s wireline network, allowing users of PDAs and laptops to stay connected to the network as they roam through an office building, or enter a conference room.

3Com’s AirConnect system consists of wireless access points and notebook PC cards. The access points are connected to the wireline network and act as bridges between the wired network and wireless PCs. Each access point can support up to 63 simultaneous connections, Walford said.

AirConnect includes a Site Survey Utility, which helps network managers determine the best locations for access points to ensure complete coverage. The access points can be managed via 3Com’s Transcend Network Control Services 1.1 for Windows NT.

One added feature of the access points that Walford believes network managers will enjoy is that fact that they can be powered through the Ethernet cabling attaching them to the network, making the access points easier to deploy.

George Karidis, an analyst with The Yankee Group in Canada, based in Brockville, Ont., said the AirConnect line is a “nice evolution” for 3Com.

He believes high-speed wireless LANs will be deployed by enterprises looking for more mobility for their workers, but Karidis doesn’t see wireless LANs replacing wireline networks. Even at 11Mbps, wireless is much slower than the speeds available on wireline networks, he noted.

One area where Karidis does think wireless could be used in place of wireline is in new network installations in older buildings where it might not be feasible to string cable.

The AirConnect products have been submitted to the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (WECA), which is dedicated to ensuring 802.11 compatibility. 3Com is a founding member of the alliance. If the AirConnect products pass the compatibility testing, they will receive a Wi-Fi logo. All products with the Wi-Fi logo are guaranteed to be interoperable, Walford said.