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3Com partners with wireless-switch upstart

3Com enters into the wireless-switch market through a partnership with start-up Trapeze Networks.

3Com is the latest networking company to partner with a wireless LAN switching start-up.

3Com said Monday that it will begin reselling a version of the Mobility Exchange switch and management software from Trapeze Networks under the 3Com brand later this year. The companies plan to eventually integrate Trapeze's wireless local-area network (LAN) switching products into 3Com's product line, allowing Trapeze hardware and software to work with current 3Com products, including its wireless access points and its existing Ethernet switches. The first products to be sold under 3Com's label are expected later this year.

Trapeze's wireless LAN, or WLAN, switching architecture will make the 3Com wireless solution much more scalable and affordable, 3Com officials said. The switch will be used to centrally manage 3Com's existing access points, making it much easier to add new access points to the network.

The Trapeze switches will also make it easier to apply security features to wireless traffic. Using this switching architecture, 3Com will be able to develop lower-cost access points, because most of the intelligence will be embedded in the switch rather than in the access point.

"All of the traffic encryption, user authentication and roaming transitions happen in the switch instead of the access point," said Brent Nixon, director of product management for wireless systems at 3Com. "This is a major cost advantage when deploying large wireless networks."

The deal is good news for Trapeze, which will get access to a much larger sales channel. Trapeze will also take advantage of 3Com's large customer support program. 3Com's professional services organization group is expected to help deploy the products.

For 3Com, the partnership will primarily help the company get a solution to market more quickly. Wi-Fi, a type of WLAN, has become a hot, emerging technology in the past year, as more corporate customers look for ways to make their work force more mobile.

The market is already crowded with start-ups such as Aruba Wireless Networks and Airespace. Networking giant Cisco Systems has also entered the market with enhancements to its access points and its Catalyst LAN switch.

While this is the first major partnership deal for Trapeze, Aruba and Airespace have struck deals with other large networking equipment companies. Last month, Hewlett-Packard announced that it will resell Aruba gear. Alcatel and Nortel Networks are currently reselling Airespace products.

While partnerships can be beneficial, they are often complicated and difficult to manage. Some analysts believe that acquisitions can reap more benefits for larger companies like 3Com than partnerships can.

"If 3Com is really serious about getting back into the enterprise market, at some point, they need their own wireless LAN system," said Dave Passmore, an analyst at Burton Group. "But I doubt they had the ability to acquire someone right now. They aren't the powerhouse they once were."

Nixon said there are no current plans to acquire Trapeze.

"At this point, we felt the best solution was for us to partner," he said. "Trapeze has industry-leading technology, and it allowed us to get a better product to market much sooner than if we had done it on our own."