3Com will be at the forefront of a line of networking companies that later this year will embrace an 11Mbit/sec wireless LAN (local area network) standard that has the potential to fundamentally change the work habits of every corporate user.
The new 11Mbit/sec standard, which is roughly five times faster than existing IEEE standard wireless LAN offerings, will for the first time make it practical for end users to roam buildings and campuses with their notebooks while remaining linked to a server.
"You can go into a collaborative session with your peers, take your notebook, and have connectivity to the LAN," said Dave Brown, an IS manager for the New York Times, in New York, who is testing a wireless LAN solution.
According to sources, 3Com is joining a number of other companies using an 11Mbit/sec chip set from Harris Semiconductor. Several 11Mbit/sec products based on that chip set, from companies including Symbol Technologies, Aironet, OTC Telecom, and Selectec, will be demonstrated this week at the Wireless Symposium in San Jose, California.
Sources said 3Com will base its wireless LAN line-up on an IEEE standard that calls for 11Mbit/sec total bandwidth. Current IEEE standards for wireless LANs support 1Mbit/sec to 2Mbit/sec bandwidth.
The 11Mbit/sec wireless technology also will be coming to a version of 3Com's Palm platform that is sold by Symbol for retail markets. Symbol officials said the company will unveil in June a device with 2Mbit/sec wireless LAN capability and later in 1999 will offer the 11Mbit/sec standard.
Although the standard is still in draft form and will not be approved until later this year or early 2000, some users are anxious for a higher-speed wireless solution.
"I will welcome the day I can get above 2Mbit/sec from anybody," said Ed Carpenter, infrastructure engineer at St Joseph Healthcare, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The higher bandwidth may help him to persuade executives as well as doctors to use wireless LANs, he said.
3Com purchased Pacific Monolithics, a wireless LAN company, in 1993 but has not introduced any wireless LAN products. The company has emphasised the need to deliver speed that matches that of Ethernet LANs.
3Com will now follow other vendors, including Nortel Networks, Cabletron, and Lucent Technologies, into the wireless LAN market. All of these companies currently offer lower-speed solutions.
Also at the Wireless Symposium, Harris will introduce the second generation of its 11Mbit/sec chip set, which a Harris official said will offer lower power consumption and greater range than its current chips.
RadioLAN, which has received investments from Cisco Systems and Intel, currently sells a proprietary 10Mbit/sec wireless LAN solution. A RadioLAN official said the 802.11 products could face greater interference because of portable phones and microwave ovens that also operate in the 2.4GHz range of the standard.
3Com officials were unavailable for comment.