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Another deal combines voice, data

Add another partnership to the list of networking companies attempting to provide voice and data networks in a single package: 3Com and Siemens.

    Add another partnership to the list of networking companies attempting to provide voice and data networks in a single package.

    Corporate networking player 3Com (COMS) and communications giant Siemens unveiled an expanded partnership to drive a single networking infrastructure for telecommunications and data traffic into existing corporate layouts.

    Although the convergence of phone and data traffic has been hyped for some time despite few concrete advancements, both companies say the elements are now in place for the combination to take off.

    However, products resulting from the partnership will not see the light of day until next year, and no specifics on the type of equipment to be developed by the two companies have been detailed.

    Siemens, a multibillion-dollar monolith whose stronghold is in Europe, plans to join its Hicom telecommunications equipment with familiar small-business, workgroup, and enterprise networking products from 3Com. Through switching technology from both companies and 3Com's software, the firms hope to make a case that the demands of voice traffic can be reliably handled on a network built to send data packets.

    "Industry leadership is needed now to further catalyze this development," proclaimed Eric Benhamou, chairman and CEO of 3Com. "Our vision will be to create a single switching fabric...that transmits voice and data together."

    Benhamou said the relationship was specifically focused on the corporate enterprise network infrastructure and is not intended to compete for a share of the Internet telephony market. That market uses the Internet to route phone calls, bypassing the toll charges of telecom carriers.

    3Com and Siemens already have a reseller relationship. That deal will be expanded to include sales and support for voice and video application needs, the licensing by Siemens of 3Com's TranscendWare and Fast IP internetworking software, and joint development of products to address an integrated data and telecommunications marketplace.

    Benhamou said the existing agreement between the two companies adds $50 million to $100 million to 3Com's coffers annually. He conservatively predicted $500 million in revenues over the next five years as a result of the expanded alliance.

    Siemens already has partnerships with Cisco Systems, Bay Networks, and Newbridge Networks. It is unclear how those engagements will be affected.

    Siemens will continue to market 3Com's entire line of switches, as well as the company's interface cards and remote access gear. Plans to integrate products added to 3Com's portfolio as a result of the U.S. Robotics acquisition will follow initial work on 3Com's core switching hardware.

    Analysts said the long-awaited convergence of voice and data still has not met the reality of disparate networks for those tasks, but eventually the reasons for partnerships like the 3Com Siemens deal will be readily apparent.

    "Hype now, two or three years down the road in reality," said Craig Johnson, principal analyst for market researcher Current Analysis.

    3Com's move comes on the heels of the recent announcement of an expanded partnership between Cisco Systems and Alcatel Telecom covering similar ground.