Global electronics giant Samsung is branching out from its traditional strength in manufacturing consumer devices such as TVs, LCDs, and mobile phones and making a leap into the enterprise networking appliance market with a line of “Ubigate” appliances that are meant to provide an all-in-one solution for security, routing and switching, VoIP, VPN, and more.

Samsung kicked off the first full day of Interop Las Vegas 2007 with an 8:00 AM (Pacific) press conference, announcing that it was making a major entrance into the networking space in the U.S. market. It has already made big strides with its networking gear in Asia.

Ironically, the Samsung press conference was in a tiny room just across from the big keynote hall where the John Chambers, CEO of networking king Cisco Systems, was preparing for his 9:00 AM keynote presentation to open the conference.

“We believe that our experience in consumer electronics and systems will work very nicely,” said Young-soo Ryu, Samsung’s Senior Vice President of Enterprise Network Business. Ryu is also a network industry veteran from Cisco Systems and Nortel.

Ryu sees a huge opportunity in convergence of voice and data networks. “We believe that convergence is happening at the network and the device level… Our enterprise product can tie these things together.”

The Ubigate solutions are aimed at small and medium businesses with 50-300 users, with the option to extend up to 500. Samsung has put an onslaught of features into these boxes, including hot-swap components, VPN, VoIP, URL filtering, antivirus, and simplified management (Web-based console, configuration wizard, and configuration rollback). They are obviously coming into the U.S. market with the ambition to take a big chunk of market share and the intention of become a key player.

“Samsung is a long distance runner,” said Ryu.

I should also note that just after Samsung talked about new networking hardware, John Chambers hardly mentioned hardware at all during his keynote, but instead he spoke passionately about the next great wave of productivity gains that will be driven by collaboration and Web 2.0 mashups running on a ubiquitous network and powered by the broad range of solutions that Cisco has been building over the past decade. More on that later.

What do you think about Samsung jumping into the networking market? Do the Ubigate boxes look interesting enough for you to want more information? Should Samsung stick to TVs and phones? Join the discussion.