Go small and go home

Three months after upsetting many of its large customers by abruptly discontinuing its LAN and WAN operations, 3Com Corp. unveiled its various broadband-focused product offerings for the small office and home networking set at the recent Networld & Interop show in Toronto.

On display was various LAN networking gear for small- and medium-sized businesses including 3Com’s Air Connect 11Mbps wireless solution, its Office Connect Hubs and Switches, and its NBX 100 IP PBX system.

The July show came only two weeks after 3Com announced its planned purchase of Kerbango, Inc., developers of the first Internet radio, a device also on display at the 3Com booth.

Nick Tidd, the president and country manager for 3Com Canada, said the company’s various products “complement each other in the way we follow Web enablement.

“We are a firm believer that the Internet is going to be the transport mechanism going forward.”

In an interview with Network World Canada, Tidd outlined 3Com’s new focus as being dedicated to four technology trends: IP telephony; broadband access; wireless access; and home networking. The company hopes to leverage its experience in those areas to tap what it considers to be more lucrative markets.

“The growth is really in the small to medium sites,” Tidd said.

Dan McLean, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said he expects 3Com’s rededication to the smaller business set, a market he said they’ve “always owned,” to be embraced by customers looking for service from more specialized companies. He did not feel those smaller customers would be put off by 3Com’s controversial decision in the spring to walk away from the other sectors of its business.

It was in March that 3Com announced it would be dedicating all its resources to the consumer, small to medium business, and service provider networking markets. It then spun off its highly visible Palm wireless division into a separate company and sold its analogue modem business. It also walked away from its large enterprise LAN/WAN business, leaving many customers feeling abandoned.

“The initial customer reaction was, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this to me,'” Tidd admitted. But “we found we were trying to be everything to everybody.”

The company recommended its customers transition themselves to Santa Clara, Calif.-based Extreme Networks, an up-and-comer in the networking switch market.

“Extreme’s Black Diamond was a superior box to 3Com’s Corebuilder,” Tidd said simply.

However, Tidd said he believes many large enterprises may soon be calling 3Com again, even if the company is now targeting small and medium businesses.

“In large enterprises, employees want to work from home or small offices, so they need distributed networking,” he explained for his reasoning.

McLean does not share Tidd’s sentiment, citing a general bitterness among 3Com’s Corebuilder switch customers, many of whom feel they’ve been hung out to dry.

“I don’t think that…large enterprises in that particular situation are going to be calling 3Com back for additional business in the future,” McLean said. “Absolutely, they have a wireless line and a broadband wireless line specifically, and some good LAN telephony gear, but…there was a segment of customers that were certainly alienated.”