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3Com mounts new switch in the wall

3Com has released what it claims is the industry's first "in-the-wall" Ethernet switch, and one expert says the innovative design will help 3Com recover from previous missteps.

Networking vendor 3Com Corp. recently launched what company officials term a unique line of ''in-the-wall'' four-port managed Ethernet switches. One analyst said the innovative product, among its other recent improvement efforts, will help 3Com recover from previous market share losses and strategic missteps.

According to Trey Wafer, product manager at 3Com, the new IntelliJack NJ240FX is a mountable switch with a transformed form factor to fit inside a standard wall outlet.

Marlborough, Mass.-based 3Com's NJ240FX is designed to combine the security of fiber for converged connections of data, voice and video networks.

Joshua Johnson, senior analyst at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Synergy Research Group, said this product, coupled with 3Com's other recent improvements like its 8800 modular switch line, shows the vendor's enterprise strategy is no longer floundering. After largely abandoning its enterprise business in the late 1990s, 3Com sold its carrier-class technology unit and refocused on large corporate customers, but has struggled to regain market share.

"[The NJ240FX has a] very innovative design, created with particular customer needs in mind rather than a technology-objective," Johnson said. "3Com has had other copper-only versions available for some time; the fiber uplink version -- the 240 -- gives even more options."

The IntelliJack family offers both managed and unmanaged versions for both copper- and fiber-based networks. The NJ240FX specifically accommodates a standard two-strand fiber cable uplink and utilizes switching technology to expand the number of connections to four 10/100 Ethernet copper ports at the end-user's location.

The NJ240FX also supports IPv6, a port-based network access control founded on the IEEE 802.1x network login standard; IEEE 802.1Q virtual local area network support; and a "location mapping" feature that helps to locate ports for faster network troubleshooting. According to Johnson, this IPv6 support is rare in a product of this small size.

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Available in March, the NJ240FX is specifically targeted at companies that have or are considering fiber LAN infrastructures, and Wafer said the product is also appealing to an unexpected market segment.

Wafer said: "Interestingly, a number of local phone companies and service providers have expressed interest in bringing fiber into the home and using this product for selling their home networking services."

The NJ240FX differs from a desktop switch, according to Wafer, because it physically mounts in the wall and is part of the LAN infrastructure. Wafer indicated four main benefits to an enterprise deploying NJ240FX versus a desktop switch:

  • Expands the number of network connections at an end-user location quickly with no disruption to existing infrastructure.

  • Increases an IT manager's overall ability of network control increases. The manager becomes better aware of what's plugged into the network and can manage individual ports at the end-user location.

  • Offers maximum bandwidth and security at a cost-effective price, $379.

  • Sends power to power over Ethernet (PoE)-enabled device plugged into the IntelliJack.

    Johnson said the NJ240FX also reduces the need to pull cables from closet to cubicle at a 4:1 ratio, and 8:1 ratio if using VoIP.

    On the other hand, there are a few downsides. Johnson said deployment of the NJ240FX requires a slight change in architecture and a slightly more expensive price tag than "plain Jane" 10/100 switches.

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