3Com merges wired and wireless

3Com merges wired and wireless

3Com is expected to launch a combined wired/wireless Lan switch for small businesses or offices that want one box to control all network-access methods.

The Unified Switch, which includes 24 Gigabit Ethernet ports with Power over Ethernet (PoE) combined with WLan controller technology, is designed to support as many as 250 users.

MTS, a St. Louis company that installs networks and phone systems for the hospitality industry, has the switch in its 20-person office, supporting Mitel IP phones and WLAN access points from 3Com.

"We have our servers attached at Gigabit Ethernet, and our IP phones are standards-based, so there haven't been any glitches" with PoE support, says Jason Houts, vice president of operations for MTS. While the office has only two access points, Houts says the centralized management will come in handy if the office expands its wireless reach. He also is considering the switch as a way to simplify installations of access points for his hotel and motel customers interested in deploying free Wi-Fi.

Features in the WLAN controller piece of the Unified Switch include the ability to support 24 access points on one box; it also can support as many as four Services Set Identifiers per access point. The switch works only with 3Com 7760 and 8760 access points.

A configuration tool for the Unified Switch lets users set access points as either full service or fat (in which the access point gets its own IP address and is managed as a separate network device) or as a thin access point, in which configuration is handled via the switch.

For WLAN security, Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA) and WPA2 are supported, as well as the Wired Equivalency and 802.1x authentication protocols.

The switch's PoE support includes as much as 15.4 watts on each port -- enough to power most standards-based 802.3af PoE devices, such as WLAN access points and IP telephones. The switch includes four fiber-based Gigabit ports for connecting to long-reach fiber links, or to fiber-based servers in a small server room.

Many small-office and home-office network devices combine WLAN and wired Ethernet switches, but these products are not truly unified LAN/WLAN controllers, 3Com says, or they do not offer such enterprise features as Gigabit Ethernet and PoE. 3Com says that Cisco's Catalyst 3750G Integrated Wireless LAN Controller, which includes multiple Gigabit/PoE ports and Airespace WLAN controller technology, is a high-end product costing as much as US$20,000. The Cisco device also runs separate operating systems and has a configuration tool for both the LAN switch and WLAN controller functions of the box.

The Unified Switch costs $2,750. The 3Com 7760 single-radio and 8760 dual-radio access points cost $250 and $400, respectively. (Both access points support PoE and 802.11a/b/g).

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