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3Com networks small business

3Com is among the networking vendors reacting to the growing need for small-office gear that supports faster Ethernet technology.

With the growing use of networking cards that speed data at 10 times the rate of traditional desktop Ethernet technology, the need for small-office networking gear that supports this faster standard is growing.

3Com (COMS) is among the networking vendors reacting to this trend by offering a series of 100-mbps hubs with four, eight, and 12 ports targeted at the booming SOHO (small office/home office) niche.

Until recently, a networking card for a PC usually zipped data to the corresponding hub it connected to at 10-mbps (megabits per second) in a small office. But prices in the Ethernet market are dropping so swiftly that the emerging standard for desktop connections to networks is fast becoming a more flexible 10/100-mbps card that can move data at either speed.

Competitive pressures are turning up the heat in the Ethernet market, as companies with low-end networking product lines such as 3Com, Intel, and Bay Networks (with its NetGear division) continue to slash prices to keep pace. Less well-known players, such as D-Link Systems and Accton Technology, also remain in the mix.

Shared low-end 100-mbps hubs are distinct from the rising tide of auto-sensing 10/100-mbps managed hubs and switches because these offerings generally do not come with connection capabilities to headquarters.

"This is definitely an aggressive move into the SOHO market," noted Dwayne Shirakura, analyst with market researcher the Dell'Oro Group. He said most small offices are not looking for advanced features such as manageability and support for connections to larger sites when they buy gear like the new 3Com offerings, driving down the price of the box.

The new models--the TP 400, TP 800, and TP 1200--will debut in November. List prices are as follows: TP 400, $245; TP 800, $445; and TP 1200, $645.

Intel, as a competitive example, currently offers an eight-port unmanaged 100-mbps hub for a $595 list price, almost $150 more than 3Com's gear, according to an Intel spokeswoman. Users can expect reductions from companies such as Intel and others to follow the 3Com announcement, according to analysts.

Intel officials said they did not plan to make any price cuts at this time. However, the recent acquisition of Dayna Communications could up the ante given Intel's history of hitting the market at aggressive prices. The technology from that purchase is targeted at the SOHO market.