3Com chief talks up home networking, IP

Home networking will take off when PCs are faster, cheaper and easier to use, and IP (Internet protocol) telephony will be ready for widespread use in the near future, said Eric Benhamou, chairman and chief executive officer of 3Com.

Benhamou enthused over home networking, IP telephony and other networking innovations to a crowd of IT industry workers at FIHT, the Forum de l'Information et de la Haute Technologie (Information and High technology Forum) on the outskirts of Paris.

"Networks are becoming faster and cheaper and are reaching further and further outside the enterprise," said Benhamou. Intelligence built into the networks is creating rich networks capable of moving voice and video, he said.

In order for networking to be pervasive, incumbent telephone carriers, such as British Telecommunications PLC, France Telecom SA, AT&T Corp. and Deutsche Telekom AG must switch from a strong voice orientation to a data orientation and must stop acting defensively with regard to competition, said Benhamou. "They tend to be large, bureaucratic companies, organised very differently from their competitors," Benhamou said of the incumbent telcos.

New, challenger telcos will steal market share and pave the way for innovation because they don't have the weight of regulation and they understand TCP/IP, he said. More importantly, they understand "running IP traffic on routed networks to achieve astonishing throughput and bandwidth," Benhamou said.

Voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology will be used more effectively once innovations such as packet protection are applied, said Benhamou. He demonstrated the voice quality difference between IP telephony over the Internet without packet protection and one with packet protection. The sample with packet protection -- a technology that reduces the number of lost packets of data -- was much clearer and easier to understand than the one without it. But Benhamou compared today's VoIP to 1957 radio and declared that innovations in the near future will improve VoIP quality just as radio has been enhanced to the point where stereo broadcasts are possible.

Strategic alignments between telecom equipment vendors and enterprise networking vendors are going to speed up the convergence between voice and data networks that will shepherd in many of these innovations, Benhamou said. Without revealing 3Com's potential plans to hook up with a telecom equipment vendor, Benhamou hinted that it would be impossible for a company focused on just one area to be successful.

In fact, industry observers have noted that 3Com will face revitalised competition in the networking arena from mergers that have taken place in the past year, including Nortel Networks purchase of Bay Networks Inc. and last month's acquisition of Ascend Communications Inc. by Lucent Technologies Inc.

The next frontier, predicted Benhamou, is the home, where he expects networking to take off. Right now, he acknowledged, PCs are too complex for many home users and computer penetration in the U.S. home market, for instance, is only at 50 percent. But once vendors begin to pay enough attention to ease of use and provide PCs and networking products that are plug-and-play, the home networking market will explode, he predicted. But it won't be intelligent refrigerators and toasters that drive consumers to home networking, he said. "Internet connection is the killer application for home networking."

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