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3Com challenges Cisco to router duel

The smaller gear maker claims its new routers will cost significantly less than similar offerings from the market leader.

3Com is turning up the heat on enterprise routing rival Cisco Systems.

On Monday, the company announced two new sets of low-cost access routers that are designed to be replacements or alternatives to routers sold by Cisco. The company claims that these routers will cost 30 percent to 50 percent less than similar offerings from market leader Cisco.

3Com's product news comes just as Cisco prepares to announce its own set of new access routers. On Tuesday, Cisco is expected to reveal details of its new 1800, 2800 and 3800 wide-area network access routers, which will feature embedded security tools and support for voice over Internet Protocol.

Cisco has long dominated the enterprise router market, with more 90 percent market share, but competitors such as 3Com and Juniper Networks could pose a threat to the company's dominance.

3Com's strategy has been to offer customers high-performance routing at a much lower price than what Cisco offers. The company, which has partnered with Chinese networking gear maker Huawei Technologies to develop its enterprise routers, bundles a lot of the functionality into its products without charging extra for it, said Howard Rubin, product marketing manager for 3Com routers. For example, he claims that 3Com includes support for many software features, such as security firewalls and virtual private network connectivity, as part of the base price for its routers, while Cisco and Juniper do not.

"Customers are sick and tired of paying a premium for Cisco gear," he said. "And they get really mad when they realize they have to pay extra for more memory or to turn on certain security features. After a while, it adds up."

But Cisco doesn't seem too worried about competition from 3Com.

"Cisco has healthy respect for all its competitors," said Jim Brady, a Cisco spokesman. "But no supplier can match Cisco's blend of advanced technology, industry-leading channel partners and technology support."

3Com's 6000 series of routers compete directly with Cisco's 3725 and 3745 routers. The 3Com routers support a full range of routing protocols, as well as multiprotocol label switching, stateful packet inspection, quality-of-service features, and IPsec virtual private network services.

The 3Com Router 6040 and 6080 start at $5,990 and $8,390, respectively.

According to listings on CNET Shopper, pricing for the Cisco 3725 is between $9,011 and $9,928. Pricing for the 3745 is listed as between $13,139 and $13,819.

On Monday, 3Com also introduced a new low-end 3000 series of routers that provides a range of DSL interfaces for branch offices. The 3000-series routers, which come in six new models, support asymmetric DSL (ADSL) and global-standard high-bit rate DSL (G.SHDSL). This line competes directly with Cisco's 83x series routers.

The 3Com Router 3000 DSL family is priced between $595 and $795.

Analysts agree that customers need a second source for access-routing equipment, but other competitors may be in a better position to win. Juniper Networks, which has successfully competed against Cisco in the high-end service provider router market, is expected to begin selling its new access routers this month.

"A lot of these access routers are sold as part of a managed routing service through the carriers," said Dave Passmore, an analyst at the Burton Group. "And Juniper already has strong relationships there. I think they are more of a threat to Cisco than 3Com is."

The full suite of new 3Com products will be available by mid-November, the company said.