3Com: Four ports in every socket

3Com wants you to add a switch to every network socket, and it won't stop there. Other features could appear on sockets

3Com is bringing to the UK a network jack with a difference; it multiplies sockets by four. Future additions to the socket could include security features and maybe even wireless access. The J95 jack has been on sale in the US for a year, but has only just been made in a shape which fits UK standard wall sockets. The front plate of the jack has a hole to allow voice connections to pass straight through, but includes an unmanaged switch, turning one network socket into four. The jack is obviously cheaper than laying new cables and making new sockets, but the real competition the J95 faces is companies just adding a cheap hub to make more connections. "It won't fit into everyone's network niche," said 3Com business development manager James Walker. "It could be more expensive than a cheap switch or hub, but it won't get kicked or damaged. Hubs can go walkabout, and they are not aesthetically pleasing in a conference room or classroom." The device is quick to install (less than five minutes, claimed Walker), and also reduces the use of power outlets, as the switch itself is powered by power-on-Ethernet. It includes 802.1p traffic management for prioritisation, for instance if the company has voice on IP. All this does not come cheap -- the socket will cost about £90 as a one-off street price (though it will be cheaper for large companies making network upgrades) -- and the power-on-Ethernet adaption for the switch room is about £20 extra for a single socket, or £600 for a rack-mount 24-port option. Sales of the US version have gone well, said Walker, and a new unit launched there includes a managed switch, and pass-through for power-on-Ethernet to devices plugged into the jack. This version will come to Europe later this year, more quickly than the J95 did, since it will fit on the same backplate, which screws into a British standard 86mm wall box. 3Com plans to add more functions to wall jacks, and make the J95 available in more places, said Walker. The US version fits standard wall boxes in Japan, Korea, Italy, Canada, South Africa and much of South America. The UK version will also be sold in Germany, Ireland Austria and Switzerland, thanks to compatible standards. "Other countries will follow during this year," said Walker. "3Com is considering doing as many things as we can fit into a unit like this," said Walker. "This is the start of lots to come, placing tech right at the client side." The managed version will allow VLANs to be set up to the wall socket, and security will eventually be applied to the port. "802.1x access control would be popular move," said Walker. "The only question is, can we fit the technology into such a small unit?"

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