3Com: Battling the Behemoth
Usually, 3Com ends up locking horns with just one massive moose of a competitor (hint: Its name begins with C and ends with O). When it wins the fight, 3Com has come out ahead on price and what customers say is more attention to midsize companies.
And 3Com recently beat Cisco to market with a next-generation wireless networking system, developed with startup Trapeze Networks and released last fall. For Michael Baker, director of information systems at Underwood-Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, N.J., the 3Com Wireless LAN Controller WX4400 system lets his three-person networking staff manage 37 access points from a single screen instead of having to monitor each one individually.
"I'm tickled to death with the quality of the gear and the service we get out of 3Com," Baker says.
In addition, 3Com is less pricey than Cisco, customers say. Samir Desai, manager of information technology for Intertex Apparel Group, a clothing manufacturer in New York, says 3Com's wireless products, at about $400 per access point, cost 40% to 50% less than Cisco's. "To me," he adds, "3Com's technology is superior."
But 3Com is outhustled in the marketing department, Desai says: "The name 3Com is still not as popular as Cisco. Cisco is a trusted, reliable solution in many people's minds. 3Com needs to do a better job of making a name for itself."
Sometimes, 3Com is simply dwarfed by Cisco, a networking juggernaut with 38 times 3Com's revenue. Two years ago Worldspan, an Atlanta-based travel services firm, scrapped its 3Com wireless gear in favor of Cisco's. Why? "The 3Com kit was not as widely used in the data center," says chief technical officer David Lauderdale. "It's not a knock on 3Com. We were just trying to consolidate vendors, standardize skill sets, and there were more Cisco certified engineers than those certified on 3Com."
By the same token, some say that for midsize companies, 3Com is much easier to work with. "3Com uses us as a selling pointthey see us as an important account," says Mark Berkheimer, manager of information technology at Harrisburg International Airport in central Pennsylvania. "For Cisco, we'd be just another regional customer. There wouldn't be the priority to baby-sit me." TODD SPANGLER
3Com operating results*
*Fiscal year ends in late May or early June; FYTD reflects first nine months
Source: Company Reports
Total assets - $1.65B
Stockholders' equity - $1.33B
Cash and equivalents - $226.98M
Short-term investments - $655.80M
Long-term debt - None
Shares outstanding - 379.95M
Market value, 5/27 - $1.42B
**As of Feb. 25, 2005, except as noted