New 3Com products help workers unplug

The networking giant announces plans for new wireless products that connect computers with handheld devices and allow them to swap data wirelessly.

3 min read
3Com announced plans Monday for new wireless products that connect computers with handheld devices and allow them to swap data wirelessly.

The networking giant is one of dozens of companies that are building new technology based on Bluetooth, a much-hyped wireless technology that links cell phones, pagers, personal digital assistants and computers to one another--and to the Net.

With mobile devices becoming more popular, the tech industry has embraced Bluetooth as the short-range wireless technology that removes the need for cumbersome cables and wires to attach computers and devices together. With most initial Bluetooth products hitting the market next year, analysts say widespread use of the technology is still about two years away.

As previously reported, 3Com, based in Santa Clara, Calif., plans to ship its first three Bluetooth products early next year: hardware that can be affixed to desks and conference rooms, so people can use the wireless technology at the office. 3Com plans to ship notebook PC cards and universal serial bus (USB) adapters that have the wireless technology built in, so computers can support Bluetooth.

Intel plans to release similar products in the first half of next year, while Motorola has already shipped Bluetooth-enabled notebook PC cards and USB adapters, which are being bundled into IBM and Toshiba laptops.

Analysts say 3Com's products--as well as Intel's--will initially be aimed at people interested in cutting-edge technology. Most Bluetooth-enabled devices won't ship until the second half of 2001, meaning the wireless technology won't be widely used until 2002, said Gartner analyst Mike McGuire.

"Right now, everyone is rushing to market with products, but the market is not quite ready," McGuire said. "They're carving out a piece of the initial market. They need some hardware out there for people who want to play with the latest stuff."

With Bluetooth-enabled devices, people can wirelessly exchange data between their Palm handhelds and their computers, said Jef Graham, senior vice president of 3Com's commercial and consumer division. People can also dial their cell phones simply by clicking on phone numbers listed in the address books of their Palm handhelds or computers, he said.

3Com executives said the new Bluetooth products will work together with 3Com's previous wireless technology, called AirConnect.

While the Bluetooth wireless standard is for short-range connections between devices, 3Com's AirConnect is for longer-range use. AirConnect, which uses a wireless standard called 802.11B, allows businesses to build wireless networks in which workers can roam throughout their offices and stay connected to the Net and the corporate network.

3Com's Bluetooth offering is part of a wide array of new office products the networking company plans to announce Monday--and the first products for businesses since the company's major restructuring in March. 3Com executives at the time said they would build simple, easy-to-use networking products that cater to its core market: small and mid-sized businesses, as well as branch offices of large corporations.

Besides the Bluetooth products, 3Com announced new Web-speeding devices and an updated Internet telephony product for businesses.

The company in April plans to ship a Web-caching device that speeds the delivery of Web sites to employees surfing the Web. The caching device will store a local copy of frequently requested Web pages, so employees' computers don't have to retrieve the information on the Web each time.

3Com in April will also ship a "content switch" device that eases network traffic congestion by distributing Net traffic evenly among servers on a network, so none of the servers is overloaded with work.

For security, the company plans to ship a new firewall device this month. The Web caching, content switch and firewall products will take less than 15 minutes to install, Graham said.

3Com is also releasing a faster family of switching devices that sends data traffic at gigabit speeds. The technology is based on gigabit Ethernet, the latest technology that connects PCs and server systems.

The company is also introducing an update to its Net-based phone system, which the company touts as a cheaper alternative to traditional phone systems.

The product, called NBX, allows employees to make Internet-based phone calls within a corporate network, or to a traditional phone system if the calls are outside the company. The new version now supports international languages, allowing 3Com to sell the product abroad. The international language support is important because directions to leave voice mail can now be heard in languages other than English, 3Com executives said.