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Metricom signs chip pact with National Semi

The creator of the Ricochet wireless modem service inks a deal with National Semiconductor that could give its service a jolt.

Metricom, the creator of the Ricochet wireless modem service, has inked a deal with National Semiconductor that could give the company's service a jolt.

The two companies will work together to develop chips based on the Ricochet wireless modem, with an eye toward plugging them into new mobile Net-connected devices.

The pair is hoping to target the nascent "information appliance" market, where equipment manufacturers are beginning to create slimmed-down versions of personal computers designed specifically for getting on the Web or other simple tasks. The chips would also work on handheld computers such as the Palm or the Visor Handspring, the companies said.

By pushing its technology into mobile devices--and making it easier to use than its bulky modems that now plug into laptop computers--Metricom hopes to boost the use of its proprietary network as well as the technology itself.

"We think that a significant majority of people's interactions with the Internet will be wireless," said Metricom CEO Tim Dreisbach, adding that the chip will allow many devices to log onto the company's network. "This way, we become the dominant interface between people and their information."

The deal comes as the company is making other moves to expand from its relatively low regional profile into a nationwide footprint that can compete with Net access tools offered by the big telephone companies.

It is close to switching on a high-speed network in 21 markets that will offer mobile service that runs about twice as fast as the quickest dial-up modems. That's slower than alternatives such as cable or digital subscriber line (DSL) modems, but it will have the advantage of being portable.

For the past several years, the company has offered wireless modem service only in the San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., areas.

Metricom and National Semi said that devices with Ricochet chips will likely go into production by the middle of next year.