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3Com goes three-way on Wi-Fi

The networking gear maker says it will use a combination of all three Wi-Fi technologies--802.11 a, b and g--in its upcoming products, adding momentum to an industry trend.

Networking gear maker 3Com announced on Monday that it plans to begin using a combination of all three Wi-Fi standards in future products.

The Marlborough, Mass.-based company introduced access points and client cards that support a combination of all three Wi-Fi standards--802.11a, b and g--which will be available this month and will target all sizes of business as well as consumers. The company is using chips from Atheros Communications.

While 3Com is not the only manufacturer to support a combination of three standards in its products--NetGear, D-Link are among the others--it is a part of what many expect to be a growing trend, as companies look to ensure that all wireless products are compatible with one another. Products using the 802.11b and 802.11g standards are compatible, but the 802.11a standard uses a different radio band. By using all three standards, manufacturers will be able to ensure that all Wi-Fi products will work together.

Chipmakers are just starting to manufacture chips for all three Wi-Fi technologies, suggesting that a migration by device makers will eventually happen, but that it will take time.

"People will have to figure out what applications they will use with these higher-bandwidth products first, then they may start to make the switch," Sarah Kim, an analyst with The Yankee Group, said. "The trend towards (802.11) a/b/g products will happen to some degree, just to cut back on any hassle of upgrades later. But it will depend on how much vendors push on this."

Kim added that the 802.11g standard has been very popular and has built upon the momentum of the 802.11b standard. The 802.11a standard has not been as popular as the others, but uses part of the radio spectrum that does not interfere with cordless phones and microwaves, the way the 802.11b and 802.11g standards do in the 2.4GHz radio spectrum.

3Com's director of wireless product management, Fred Geiger, also sees a gradual move among manufacturers toward all three technologies, in the hope that enterprises will be more likely to use wireless networking technology in the office.

"From the client side, everybody will be migrating to a/b/g cards," Geiger said. "With enhanced security, higher throughput and these products, which will help to put the core-standards debate to rest, we're really getting to the point where all the stars are aligned for further enterprise adoption."

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3Com plans to sell an access point, the $1,099 3Com Wireless LAN Access Point 8750. This month, it also intends to release a PC Card client, the 3Com 11a/b/g Wireless PC Card with XJack Antenna, priced at $135 and a desktop client, the 3Com 11a/b/g Wireless PCI Adapter, priced at $110. Both products target large businesses. For the small-office crowd, 3Com will offer a $89 notebook PC Card client called the 3Com OfficeConnect Wireless 11a/b/g PC Card.

The company also plans to start selling access points and gateways for the small-office and home-office customers in stages later this year and early next year.

In related news, NetGear announced Monday the launch of the WG302 ProSafe 802.11g Wireless Access Point for small and medium-sized businesses. The 802.11g-based access point will be available in December for $350 and comes with advanced security and management features, according to the company.