When it comes to wireless standards, there’s a place and time for everything, according to 3Com Canada.

3Com, which Thursday said it is pursuing the enterprise and educational markets, as well as the public access arena comprising hotels, conference centres and airports, has embraced the Bluetooth wireless connectivity standard in the low end of the market for personal area networks. It will also support the WiFi (802.11b) standard, however, for local-area and wide-area networks.

And the line between the function of each technology needs to remain clear, said Paul Fulton, vice-president and general manager of the vendor’s wireless connectivity division.

“WiFi is wireless Ethernet,” he said. “Bluetooth is cable replacement. They both do [those jobs] well but if you try to push one the other way they start to have some holes.”

The vendor has begun shipping the latest in its line of wireless networking products —- the 11 Mbps Wireless LAN PC Card with XJack solution, the 11 Mbps wireless LAN Access Point 6000 and the 11 Mbps Wireless LAN building-to-building bridge.

3Com also recently signed a deal with Hewlett-Packard Co. to embed its Bluetooth wireless solution in HP Omnibook and HP Pavilion notebook PCs.

Although 3G (third-generation wireless) is often touted as the best standard for broadband wireless access, Fulton challenged that notion.

“We think 3G is good for access when you’re out and about and in cars and so forth, but 3G is extremely expensive to license,” he said. “The speed isn’t really broadband – not at 10 Kbps to 100 Kbps per user – and of course, it’s not available today.”

In contrast, he said, WiFi is an unlicensed band, there are no recurring costs, setup fees are low, products are inexpensive and the speed – 11 Mbps – is there.

3Com is also working on developing wireless products for the 2.4 GHz spectrum, which will allow speeds of 22 Mbps and beyond.

The advantage of that standard, Fulton said, is that it’s backwards-compatible. While 3Com is also working on products in the 5 GHz spectrum, which will enable speeds of 54 Mbps or more, that standard has its drawbacks. It’s not backwards-compatible, it’s more easily blocked by people and devices, it requires twice as much power to go the same distance as 2.4 GHz, and it will require an expensive infrastructure upgrade.

According to a couple of recent studies, the market for wireless LANs is booming.

IDC, for example, recently reported that revenue for worldwide wireless LAN equipment jumped by 80 per cent in 2000, breaking the US$1 billion mark.

The report, titled Unwiring the Network: Worldwide Wireless LAN Market Forecast Update 2000-2005, predicts the market for this equipment will approach US$3.2 billion by the end of 2005.

And recent statistics from the Yankee Group in Canada reveal that 35 per cent of businesses surveyed would consider a wireless LAN, depending on price, while 24.5 per cent said they plan to implement one in a year or more.

Fulton attributed the growth in the market to wireless’s contribution to the bottom line in business.

“Most industries are declining but WLANs are growing, and when you have a growing industry within a down economy, what that says is this is helping top and bottom lines.”

Fulton also touted the “radical simplicity” as well as the security features, such as VPN tunnelling, ” that 3Com has built into its wireless products.

“I would say when I talk to my customers and resellers that their No. 1 concern is security,” said Fulton. 3Com wireless products, he claimed, are “in fact more secure than most people’s wired networks.”

Not according to Jason Smolek.

Smolek, research analyst for IDC’s enterprise networks program and author of the IDC wireless report, said while 3Com wireless technology is perhaps somewhat more secure due to its incorporation of VPN tunnelling, “when you size up the whole market it’s still pretty undeveloped in security for wireless.

“No one really has anything that secure yet for wireless LANs.”

Smolek, who says 3Com is scrambling to recover the ground it lost when it withdrew from the enterprise market in late 1999 to concentrate on the small and medium enterprise (SME) market, said it has fallen to the status of a second-tier vendor.

The opportunities for WLANs are still mainly in the enterprise space, he adds.

“Wireless (for SMEs) makes good economic sense and it’s easy to deploy but there’s not much money to be made there. It’s really tough for their business.”

Smolek said to stand out from companies such as Cisco, which is signing huge wireless deals, 3Com needs to incorporate telephony into its offerings.

“They know how to do that but they just haven’t done it yet,” noted Smolek. “They reorganized their carrier business separately so organizational-wise they’re probably not using the best of their resources.”

According to Fulton, 3Com is doing some beta testing of voice-over-IP products with undisclosed participants.

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