3Com believes it has found networking's holy grail - a virgin market area.
The company has produced a new category of switches, desktop switching, which is a subset of traditional workgroup switching, but with a slightly smaller feature set and a much lower price.
3Com claims the SuperStack II Desktop Switch is the first product in this category. Priced at #89 per port, it will begin shipping in November.
Previous products, such as the LinkSwitch 1000, cost between #130 and #200.
Using exactly the same technology as 3Com's existing workgroup switches, the new switches differ from the old in that they are tailored for a single user per port. Each user is guaranteed a 10Mbps link. Andrew Berry, UK product marketing manager at 3Com, said that because the unit is built on tried and tested technology, users can be assured of its reliability.
3Com's strategy is based on research from US analyst firm Dell'Oro, which predicts explosive growth rates in a market it reckons will be worth $1.7 billion (#1.1 billion) in 1998.
"People are realising the attraction of having switching to every desk, going to a fast backbone like ATM," said Berry. "Desktop switching will be very cost effective, and we believe absolutely it will drive the market forward."
"It's a very good idea, and there is certainly a market out there," confirmed Mike Purdom, an analyst at Dataquest. "It's great for network managers, because they get the benefits of switching and performance increase, but it won't cost them an arm and a leg as it used to." He added that rivals including Bay Networks were likely to come out with similar products, because they "don't want 3Com to take away their potential revenue".
3Com believes the market for desktop switching has got a head of steam behind it as a result of the irresistible rise of the intranet. Intranets require much greater bandwidth because users want to send each other more graphics and multimedia files, increasing the volume of traffic on the network. Berry predicted the new switches would enable high-bandwidth applications such as video conferencing, and said the company was seeking partnerships with industry leaders such as PictureTel to further the take-up of these applications.
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