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Cisco gives gear more teeth

The networking giant rounds out its lineup with branch office support for digital modems.

In consecutive weeks, Cisco Systems (CSCO) has given new functions to its remote-access packages, an indication that the company does not intend to let competitors such as Ascend Communications and 3Com roll through the exploding market.

In the aftermath of the announcement of a new midrange box for Internet service providers last week, Cisco debuted new support for its 3600 series of branch office remote-access gear for corporate networks that allows simultaneous analog and ISDN (integrated services digital network) modem access. Similar technology, garnered via acquisition, was added to the San Jose, California-based company's 5000 line last week.

Cisco also disclosed fall plans to release voice-over-IP (Internet protocol) capabilities for the 3600 series through use of a gateway. That means a corporate network user could use the same line for data and voice communications, a key enhancement that is expected to become a requirement in the remote-access market. Voice-over-IP technology is expected to be a key focus at next week's Networld+Interop trade show in Atlanta.

The new modules that include MICA (modem ISDN channel aggregation) modem technology will be available next month, with prices starting at $2,200. The new additions to the line add to its current support for network-to-network local area access as well as wide area dial access, with the company promoting an all-in-one philosophy for the box, according to Paul Lammerding, a product manager at Cisco.

The remote-access market grew almost 100 percent from 1995 to 1996, building to a $2 billion segment, according to a recent report from the Dell'Oro Group of researchers.

The combination of 3Com and recently acquired giant U.S. Robotics accounts for the largest share of remote-access revenue, with Ascend following closely behind. But Cisco--a company that never seems to take entry into a market lightly--watched its revenue grow fourfold from 1995 to 1996. It is following a similar path blazed by Ascend, which catapulted from obscurity with a nearly exclusive focus on remote-access gear.

Cisco has made a conscious effort to expand its role in the remote-access marketplace as network administrators increasingly add remote functions to keep up with more and more mobile workforces, according to analysts.