3Com claims it has stolen a march on rivals, notably Intel, by releasing a network interface chip for Net PCs and other thin clients. The 3C917 supports 10/100Mbps Ethernet and is available to Net PC manufacturers.
The company sees the product as significant in its attempt to win back market share and public perception from Intel, which has attacked its core product sectors twice this year with low cost network interface cards (NICs)and mini-hubs.
However, a recent survey from market research company Dell'Oro Group suggests that 3Com is extending its leadership in certain areas over Intel and its other key rivals, Cisco and Bay Networks. In workgroup Ethernet Lans, 3Com shipped 75 per cent more Fast Ethernet NICs than Intel in the first quarter this year, and its sales were 94 per cent up on the last quarter of 1996.
3Com also has 37 per cent of the 10Mbps managed hubs market, double the market share of nearest competitor Bay, said Dell'Oro.
But other analysts point out that the impact of Intel's recent low cost product announcements will not really be felt until the current quarter and beyond, and that the markets where Dell'Oro has highlighted 3Com's leadership are ones where margins are increasingly squeezed.
Although the company has a headstart in the Net PC interface sector, Intel said it will make its own single-chip 10/100Mbps interface available to other Net PC makers soon. The first customer for 3Com's chip is Dell.
On the PC management side, the 3Com product will support Desktop Management Interface, the company's own Transcendware network administration software and Microsoft's power management technology. The aim of the Net PC is to provide users with a sealed box that is extremely easy to manage, with most management functions residing on the server.
"Because a Net PC is a sealed case device, customers can have fully compatible 3Com networking embedded in a Net PC and a 3Com NIC in a classical desktop in a single network," commented executive vice president Doug Spreng.
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