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Convergence the call at networking tradeshow

Telecommunications and technology firms tout new wireless Internet technology and the "convergence" of voice and data traffic on networks at a European trade show.

Telecommunications and technology firms are touting new wireless Internet technology and the "convergence" of voice and data traffic on networks at a European trade show this week.

The concept of convergence--using a single Internet-based network to deliver voice and data traffic--has been a common theme among networking hardware makers over the past year. Convergent technologies, analysts say, will take center stage at the week-long World Telecom '99 show in Geneva, the world's largest telecommunications conference that occurs once every four years.

3Com, Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies, Cabletron Systems, and others are all expected to make announcements this week that tout their individual strategies for networks that combine voice and data transmissions.

"Vendors and service providers are all realizing that supporting voice, data, fax, video--all kinds of traffic--on a network in a cost-effective manner is the crux of the whole thing," said analyst Laurie Gooding of Cahners In-Stat Group.

"The vendors are hard at work addressing the technical hurdles. Most of the announcements have to do with product development and trials."

Product push
As previously reported, Cabletron will announce plans to ship a new high-end routing device aimed at helping Internet service providers and emerging communications companies speed up the Internet.

To compete against rivals Cisco Systems and start-ups like Juniper Networks, Cabletron's new SmartSwitch Router, called the SSR 32000, will allow carriers to offer a variety of services, including dial-up Internet access, wireless, and high-speed digital subscriber line (DSL) access, according to the company.

Cabletron isn't the only one making strategic moves in the market. Competitor Juniper announced over the weekend that it has inked a $30 million distribution deal with European telecommunications equipment giant Alcatel. Under the agreement, Alcatel will resell Juniper equipment.

And Nortel plans to unveil a new high-speed optical networking system for communications companies tomorrow, as well as an equipment deal with Cable & Wireless. The company also signed a deal with Swedish communications firm Telia and its mobile phone unit to develop technologies based on Internet protocol (IP).

Wireless world
Many companies are discussing plans for new equipment that will facilitate high-speed wireless networks. Called third-generation (3G) wireless, the technology aims to increase wireless access speeds to 2 megabits per second (mbps), Herschel Shosteck Associates analyst Jane Zweig said.

3Com plans to help cell phone service providers using code division multiple access (CDMA) technology to support 3G wireless networks, with products aimed for release by the end of 2000.

The cellular technology will support voice and data traffic and allow speeds of 144 kilobits per second (kbps). 3Com plans to release products that will support voice, data, and video at transfer speeds of 384 kbps in early 2002. 3Com executives said the firm is working on technology, to be released sometime in the future, that will peak at transfer speeds of 2 mbps.

In tandem with the networking show, 3Com announced it will begin shipping wireless networking products for businesses this fall. Additionally, the company will unveil a wireless home networking product next year that will allow for transfer rates near 11 mbps.

Lucent Technologies also announced its own 3G wireless product testing using existing CDMA mobile phone technology.

Third-generation wireless services are expected to drive new multimedia applications for handheld devices, Zweig said, as entertainment firms like Sony or Sega plan to build interactive games for the small devices. Yet the networking promises today won't necessarily be tomorrow's products; Zweig predicts it will be more than five years before high-speed wireless networking works on a large scale.

"The announcements will be fast and furious with dates thrown in, but the wireless spectrum hasn't been allocated in many countries," she said.

Motorola, for example, is demonstrating new cell phones that will allow consumers in the future to connect to the Internet, check email, send faxes, and view streaming video.

As previously reported, Oracle will also launch its Portal-To-Go software, which will allow service providers to offer Internet services on handheld devices, such as personal digital assistants.

News.com's Ben Heskett contributed to this report.