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Validating the public access space

Last month, 3Com introduced its wireless public access solutions that offer up to 11 Mbps of broadband capability. Based on Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b) technology, 3Com's solution offers simple and secure wireless connectivity in public venues such as airports, hotels, convention centers, and retail settings.

Besides its deep pockets, 3Com claims that what differentiates it from other players in this space is the 3Com Ethernet Client Bridge (ECB), a new "zero-configuration" Wi-Fi-certified product that connects any Ethernet-enabled device to the public access wireless network. 3Com believes that this product improves the viability of public-access wireless networks by making the service accessible to a much broader population of prospective subscribers.

According to 3Com, competing solutions force mobile professionals into buying, installing, and configuring a Wi-Fi PC Card. 3Com's solution, on the other hand, enables simple on-the-go access to the Internet and corporate networks for any laptop equipped with basic Ethernet capabilities. To access the wireless network, mobile professionals only have to connect the ECB to the Ethernet port on their notebook PC, boot the PC, and launch an Internet browser - no driver installation and no configuration are needed.

In a public setting, a service provider can use the ECB to deploy wireless access to the Internet or a corporate VPN without the expense of running cables. For example, a bank of wireless ports can be deployed at airport gates, hotel lobbies, and convention centers, providing corporate travelers with quick high-speed wireless network access.

An early customer of 3Com's solution is Internet access provider get2net. Using 3Com's solution, get2net provides online access to laptop users in JFK and Newark International Airports and New York's Jacob Javitz Convention Center. "Using 3Com we've been able to complete our vision of providing convenient, secure, one-stop access to the Internet," said Tom Bokowy, get2net director of sales and technology. "People who've tried the new service just love the convenience and freedom of using their own laptops to get online."

While 3Com is helping to validate the public access space, the space isn't necessarily a sure bet. For the time being, the major work to be done here is simply rolling out the solution, signing up as many airports, hotels, and convention centers as possible. When that work is done, however, this service could quickly become a commodity, the various solutions being differentiated only by cost and marketing spin.

Next, 3G could threaten this entire space. When 3G solutions finally come along, consumers will be able to opt for some sort of voice and web package that would make a solution like 3Com's obsolete. However, 3G is still a ways out, so 3Com's solution is certainly a viable alternative in the meantime.

More information:

Jeff Vance is the editor of Embedded Internet Times and E-Infrastructure Times, industry newsletters that cover early stage startups and emerging trends. He also writes a monthly column about the mobile Internet for

This was last published in April 2001

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