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Racal dials up new business

Racal, a technology company that dates back to the 1950s, is entering the networking age. On Monday, it will unveil the first of a new line of dial access platforms.

A technology company with roots dating back to the 1950s is turning to the Internet to help it generate profits in the highly competitive remote access hardware market.

Racal Data Group, a division of worldwide billion-dollar player Racal PLC, gave itself a boost through a plethora of new engineering blood. The result is a new line of dial access platforms, the first of which officially will be unveiled next Monday.

Though the approximately $600 million data communications arm of the firm has shown strength in markets such as financial services and insurance, according to officials, Racal Data Group found its technology was gathering dust the past few years. In order to reenergize its commitment to networking in a time where equipment is being snapped up quicker than a switch speeds data traffic, the company brought in about 150 networking-focused employees in the past 12 to 18 months.

The dial-up box, just being released from the company's Sunrise, Florida, headquarters, includes a new remote access system for midsized corporate networks and branch offices. This is the same market that Bay Networks is aiming for with its new 8000 box.

The new Winhub RAS Plus system, which will be available immediately for $4,395, includes primary rate interfaces such as T1 and E1 lines, support for four analog ports for fax, voice, and modems, and four basic rate interface ports. The box also includes an IP/IPX protocol router and support for ISDN (integrated services digital network). The RAS Plus supports 30 concurrent sessions.

"It's a step in the right direction," John Girard, research director at the Gartner Group network center, said of the new product line. "They're making some progress in this direction.

"I think they've got some features right now that will differentiate them for the next 18 months," Girard said. "Demand for remote access is just growing and growing. There's room for all these companies to sell."

Gartner estimates that there will be about 55 million business users of remote access technology by the year 2000 worldwide. By the year 2002, that figure is expected to nearly double to 108 million remote users, with half of those users originating in the United States. These users will likely subscribe to multiple access points as well. "There's plenty of room to sell ports," Girard noted.

Racal has specialized in delivering modems, frame relay access devices, multiplexer hardware, and interface cards in the past, but until recently it had not combined the expertise into a data networking strategy to tackle the high-growth markets in the sector.

The RAS Plus is only the first step. Down the road, the company will also offer a stripped-down version for small branch offices with 32 ports for off-the-shelf PC cards. Furthermore, the RAS Mega enterprise platform, scheduled to ship in October, will include integration of standard network server hardware that can offer more than 1,200 ports in a rack.

The product mirrors a Gartner Group belief that customers will demand one box that remote users can use to dial up to a network and administrators can use to centralize management of remote services.

Racal Data Group's parent company is based in the United Kingdom, but recent reports in financial publications indicate that the networking hardware spin-off may initiate a public offering of stock in the coming months in the United States. Racal officials would not comment on the reports.