ISPCon99: 3Com Chief Heralds 'eNetworks'

Tomorrow's networks must be more reliable, easier to use, and able to handle rich applications that merge voice, video and data if they are to support the emerging "knowledge economy," Eric Benhamou, chief executive officer of 3Com Corp., said today.

Benhamou offered his thoughts on the opening day of ISPCon Fall 99 here, where Internet service providers, competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs) and other network providers have gathered to check out the latest products and technologies for their businesses.

Benhamou's idea might not be a revelation, but it carries some weight coming from the head of one of the world's largest providers of networking equipment for businesses and consumers.

"We have an ambitious vision of the future in which networks are truly pervasive," Benhamou said. "The types of connections will change in terms of reliability, quality, and their global reach."

The most exciting developments won't be in the "backbone" pipes that shuttle huge amounts data from one part of the world to another. The action will be in the "personal access infrastructure," or at the level where businesses and individual users connect to networks in order to access information and services, Benhamou said.

ISPs and other service providers won't sell only access to the network, he said. They will offer services and applications such as virtual private networks, policy-based access and IP telephony. They will also play an increasing role in designing and managing companies' networks.

"We expect service providers will want to reach further and further into the customer environment," Benhamou said. "Eventually, the entire network infrastructure will be provided by service providers, defined not by bandwidth but by the applications they support."

Networks must be converged, he said, allowing voice, video and data traffic to travel over a single connection. Wireless and wireline networks must interact seamlessly, and allow users to access data from any place at any time.

Problems caused by the incompatibility between today's wireless networks will be solved with the arrival of the so-called 3G (third-generation) wireless network, prototypes of which will go into operation in the next 6 months, he said. The bandwidth of 3G networks will approach 2 M bits per second by 2002, Benhamou predicted.

Future applications will allow users to point a handheld computer at a telephone and effectively "make it their own" by transferring contact, calendar and other information to it. That way, when the user receives a call at home, it will automatically be rerouted to that telephone. Armed with a user's calendar information, a network provider will know when to put calls on hold, and when to forward only important calls from preselected callers.

For consumers, ISPs must plan ahead so that with a single visit, or "truck roll," they can fit homes with the equipment that will be needed for multiple telephone lines and high-speed Internet connections.

Most of all, services for both consumers and businesses must be easy to use, Benhamou said, urging service providers to keep users at the forefront of their minds when they design network products and services.

"I'll be the first to admit that I was guilty of drawing network diagrams that didn't show any users," Benhamou said, adding that "simplicity and reliability" are the attributes 3Com is now focused on.

With that in mind, the company teamed with Microsoft Corp. earlier this year to develop HomeConnect, a family of products designed to make it easier for home users to set up a home network, Digital Subscriber Line and cable-based Internet connections.

"This is the first true holiday season when people will buy not just computers, but also full home networks," Benhamou said.

3Com, in Santa Clara, California, can be reached at +1-408-326-5000 or via the Internet at http://www.3com.com.

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