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Bluetooth snags a new backer

Via has licensed the networking technology from Ericsson and is deciding whether it will add it to chips for cell phones and computers.

Taiwan chip and device maker Via plans to add Bluetooth networking capabilities to its new products, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The company licensed Bluetooth designs on Tuesday from telecommunications equipment maker Ericsson, which controls most of the technology's patents. Via will spend the next three months deciding what to do next, such as whether or not to embed Bluetooth into its chipsets, said Gaynor de Wit, Via's marketing specialist.

"We're looking at all the possible applications at the moment," she said. An early favorite appears to be adding Bluetooth to the chips Via sells to computer and cell phone makers.

Bluetooth is a radio technology for connecting peripherals, handhelds, cell phones and other devices to personal computers. The technology emits a very powerful signal, but it has a range of just 10 feet.

Via is the latest of the growing number of makers of chips, laptop and cell phones to begin adopting Bluetooth. The technology has won some high-profile converts, such as Microsoft, which now plans to use it to eliminate the cables connecting a keyboard or mouse to a PC. And Apple Computer plans to use Bluetooth to wirelessly synchronize a handheld device to an Apple computer or laptop.

Bluetooth is supposed to have its breakthrough year in 2003, according to analyst firm IDC. The Bluetooth semiconductor market could grow to $2.6 billion in 2006 from $76.6 million last year, the market research firm predicted. Consumers and businesses would purchase 560 million Bluetooth-enabled devices by 2005, market researcher Gartner projected.

Via got into the microprocessor market in 1999 when it acquired the microprocessor divisions of National Semiconductor and IDT, named Cyrix and Centaur, respectively. The first chips came out in 2000.

Via specializes in cut-rate processors that are largely sold in developing nations. In China, for instance, many manufacturers bundle Via's chips with computers running Microsoft's ancient DOS operating system. Other chipmakers, such as Intel, have yet to announce their Bluetooth intentions.