3Com takes enterprise Wi-Fi products worldwide

Just days after news broke that it would be acquired by HP, 3Com introduced in the U.S. a line of enterprise Wi-Fi gear.  The products, from 3Com's China-based unit, H3C, encompass everything from wireless LAN access points to specially designed blades for H3C's high-end data center switches, and an overarching management application.

3Com is touting what it calls the "Unified Network Access" products as creating a network edge that can intelligently handle both wired and wireless clients, integrates more tightly than rivals with the back-end switch fabric, and is priced about 25% lower than Wi-Fi products from Cisco  and Aruba.

But there is one big question mark looming over this news: when HP acquired 3Com, it already had an enterprise Wi-Fi product line, based on HP's 2008 buy-out of Colubris, which replaced HP's reliance on rebranded Motorola WLAN gear. 3Com for its part had a long-standing Wi-Fi OEM relationship with Trapeze Networks. Neither 3Com nor HP has yet said what HP's Wi-Fi strategy will be once the merger finalizes.

What's next for Wi-Fi?

The new equipment is the fruit of 3Com's joint-venture with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd, China's leading telecom and networking company, through which 3Com wanted to reclaim a space in high-end enterprise switching. 3Com bought out the joint venture in late 2006.  The H3C Wi-Fi products have been available in China for the past year, but are now being introduced worldwide, including the U.S. They're aimed at even the biggest enterprise Wi-Fi deployments, a market that's expected to heat up as more enterprises adopt high-throughput 802.11n gear, and deploy it for wall-to-wall Wi-Fi.

The H3C Wi-Fi products are:

  •  WA line of access points for indoors, for industrial deployments requiring rugged designs, and outdoor; they include 1- and 2-radio devices, available for 802.11ag networks only or for more expensive 802.11agn networks. The 11n products support either 2 or 3 data streams, usually described as 2x2 or 3x3 multiple input multiple output (MIMO).

  • WX wireless controllers available as conventional standalone products, for up to 64 or 256 access points; a set of "unified switches" designed for branch offices, able to support wired clients or up to 8-, 24-, or 48-port access points; and two high-end boards that slot into the H3C core switches, with one board for up to 640 access points for the S7500E switch available now, and a second, for up to 256 access points, to be available for the S5800 switch by year's end.

3Com says no rival, including Cisco, can match that access point capacity in a single module. The S750E can support up to 5,000 access points on a single chassis. That capacity means 3Com's H3C solution is less expensive, less power hungry, and uses rack space more efficiently than rivals.

  •  Unified management via the Intelligent Management Center (IMC) application, which integrates data on both wired and wireless clients and connections. Wi-Fi specific management, for example of radio frequencies, intrusion protection and so on, is enabled via the optional IMC Wireless Service Module. Wireless events or alerts are automatically correlated with wired events to create a complete view of network problems and root causes, according to 3Com.

All the products, and in fact all of H3C's networking equipment, run the same Comware operating system, simplifying configuration, operations, and management because the WLAN is no longer a separate network, according to Scott Lindsay, senor director of mobility and voice products for 3Com.

The 11ag access points start at about $250, the 11n products at roughly $700. The branch office unified switches start at $2,300, and the standalone controllers at $6,500. The high-end S7500E chassis module is $17,000. The Wireless Service Module to run with the server-based Intelligent Management Center application starts at about $3,000.

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