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Chip Connects Previously Unconnected Devices

Connect One Ltd., a maker of embedded chips, has introduced an off-the-shelf processor that lets companies quickly add Internet connectivity to previously unconnected remote and mobile devices. The new chip makes it possible to achieve real-time, two-way communication with devices such as vending machines, utility meters, or even video-game consoles without having to redesign the hardware in question.

Connect One VP Alan Singer says the chip is an after-market add-on that makes a serial connection between the device and its host processor, enabling Net connectivity through any Internet service provider. So far, Singer says, the chip is mostly being sold to customers in the industrial and medical worlds, but the company also is in talks with consumer electronics companies regarding the chip's incorporation into devices such as DVD players, MP3 players, and cordless telephones.

Ken Dulaney, VP of mobile computing for Gartner Group, says the fact that the chip is compatible only with Global Systems for Mobile Communications modems creates serious cost issues, since GSM is a circuit-switching technology in which users are charged by the minute. Dulaney says packet-switching technologies such as General Packet Radio System are much less expensive and should be ready for such uses within two years. "This system will be pretty quickly eclipsed," he says. "If I was Coca-Cola, I would not use it."

Dulaney also says that Connect One's pricing--the chips sell for $20 each when bought in lots of 10,000--is about double what it should be.

Singer agrees that packet-switching technologies would be preferable--and cheaper--but he says the company wanted to show that what the chip does is possible now. "We're not there yet in being able to support General Packet Radio System," Singer says. "What we're trying to demonstrate is the use of cellular modems for Internet connectivity."

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