Bay unveils wireless products

Following its recent acquisition of NetWave Technologies Inc., Bay Networks Inc. late last month introduced a line of wireless data products that gives the company an entree to new federal customers.

The new Bay products are sophisticated radio transmitters—called access points— and cards that plug into PCs to serve essentially as antennas. These products are designed to extend computer networks beyond fixed wires, thereby enabling network users to move their computers without fussing with wires.

Bay's line includes the BayStack 600 Series— products that offer data rates of 1 megabit/sec for the Baystack 650 or 2 megabits/sec for the Baystack 660. Each access point can support 10 to 20 wireless users and covers a space of up to 300 feet indoors or 2,000 feet in open space.

The Baystack 650 operates by hopping among radio frequencies, which makes it possible to have up to 15 access points overlapping in one area. The Baystack 660, although it has a higher bandwidth, does not offer frequency hopping and so is limited to three access points in one area. The Baystack 650 costs $499 per PC Card and $1,499 per access point. The Baystack 660 costs $569 per PC Card and $1,799 per access point.

The Bay products represent a new market for the company and position it especially well to snag more of the federal and commercial health care networking markets, which have shown a lot of interest in wireless networking, analysts said.

"It helps Bay Networks in the health care vertical [market]," said Eddie Hold, research analyst at Current Analysis Inc., a Sterling, Va.-based market research firm. "The health care market is one of the few markets that is really starting to look at wireless technology."

In the federal sector, that health care market should ripen for Bay at places such as Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals and military medical centers, where having wireless access to electronic patient information at the bedside is becoming more of a common practice.

But the health care market within the federal government will not necessarily be Bay's primary target for wireless sales. Doug Makishima, director of marketing for Bay's wireless local-area network (LAN) group, said he expects Bay's primary wireless entree into the federal market to be office automation applications.

"If the individual is somebody who spends a lot of time away from his or her desk, this is going to be a great productivity tool," Makishima said. "Your network comes with you."

Federal users of existing NetWave products agree. "Recabling was a real nightmare," said Kenneth Taylor, telecommunications specialist at the Air Force Services Agency headquarters in San Antonio, an operation that sees many workers come and go as workload at the agency fluctuates. "We were expending an exorbitant amount of time recabling cubicles. With all these new connections plus upgrades to the backbone, it was just way too much."

So the agency— which manages Air Force food and lodging operations as well as golf courses and recreation centers— opted to move about 75 of its 250 workers in San Antonio to wireless workstations using NetWave products. The new approach has opened the door to more productivity because workers do not have to be at their cubicles to access information and because the network can be reconfigured without taking time to run new wires, Taylor said.

Analysts view wireless LANs as a supplement to traditional LANs. And even Bay officials acknowledge that wireless LANs are not designed to replace wired LANs. Still, Bay is not treating its new wireless line as a second-tier networking product, according to Hold. "They're not putting it on one side and saying, 'It's a wireless thing. It's completely separate,' " Hold said. Instead, Bay is quickly marketing wireless products as part of a total networking solution, he said.

Accordingly, Bay aims to keep its new product line simple. "Since our main market is the mainstream market, it's very important that these products are very easy to use," Makishima said.

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