Analysis: Networking products get shrink-wrapped

The networking market is entering a new phase with PC retailers and vendors offering off-the-shelf networking.

Australian retail giant Harvey Norman, which has designs on the New Zealand market, will launch a networking section next month. Harvey Norman, which has 56 stores throughout Australia selling furniture, electrical goods and computers, will set up two stores in Auckland either before Christmas or early next year.

Products available in the networking section will include network cards, Internet cards, hubs, PCMCIA technology, cable, operating systems such as Novell NetWare, Microsoft NT and Lantastic, and network management software.

Tony Gattari, in charge of Harvey Norman's computer business, says the networking section has been a year in the planning.

"There are many organisations with networking expertise in-house and they want to be able to buy networking gear now and then.

"Harvey Norman wants to be a convenient place where they can do that. If they need five ethernet cards, they can go down the road and get them from us quickly and at a low price.

"The reason we're able to do this now is that these products for the first time ever are in retail packaging. A year ago all networking products came in brown boxes and you can't retail it like that."

Gattari says vendors including 3Com, Novell, Xircom, SMC, Microsoft, and Lantastic are supportive of the move.

Established New Zealand computer retailer Noel Leeming is also looking at moving into the networking arena and will have product on offer before the end of the year, says computer retail general manager Bruce Kerr.

And former Southmark corporate sales manager Peter Mercer is selling networking equipment at his new Auckland computer superstore. Pete's Computer Centre sells adapters, hubs, and software but draws the line at complex equipment such as routers.

"People who know about networking often find they want easy access to these products. No one is addressing those intelligent commercial users who want somewhere to buy quality products quickly without having to go through the corporate distribution channels."

Vendors including SMC and Novell are making it possible for retailers to sell their products by launching network packages with ease of installation as the key.

SMC has released Eznetwork, a network in a box which provides an easy way for small workgroups of up to five users to establish an ethernet network. The product is aimed at the small office/home office environment and for corporate users looking to expand their network.

Eznetwork is plug and play and there is no configuration required under Windows 95. The package comes complete with all the components needed to set up an ethernet network: five EtherEZ adapter cards, an EtherEZ hub, 5 5m of UTP category 5 cable, an installation guide and documentation.

According to Andrew Mitchell, SMC's Australia and New Zealand sales manager, the move follows approaches by both corporate customers wanting to buy off-the-shelf products, and SOHO users wanting an effective plug and play product."

Eznetwork is available now for $549 plus GST. SMC products are distributed in New Zealand by Dove Electronics and Tech Pacific.

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