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Paul Allen funds wireless chip start-up

Ember, a start-up developing chips for ZigBee, gets money from Paul Allen's venture fund. Bob Metcalfe comes aboard as chairman.

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Ember, a start-up that is developing chips for ZigBee--a low-cost, low-power wireless networking standard--received $25 million in venture capital funding this week.

The funding round was led by Vulcan Capital, the investment group of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It takes the total amount of money raised by Ember to $53 million.

Ember also announced that Bob Metcalfe, who invented the Ethernet some 30 years ago, has become company chairman. Metcalfe's Polaris Ventures group had already invested in Ember.

A number of major IT companies are involved in ZigBee, including Honeywell, Invensys, Mitsubishi, Motorola and Philips. Its advocates claim it will enable billions of everyday devices to be wirelessly connected to the Internet, as part of a self-healing and self-configuring wireless network.

"Of the more than 8 billion microcontrollers built into products every year, less than 2 percent are network-enabled," Steve Hall, director at Vulcan Capital, said in a statement. "That's an enormous opportunity for Ember as companies realize the advantages of linking microcontrollers into monitoring and control networks."

ZigBee is the offspring of a wireless format that companies are no longer supporting, called HomeRF. The ZigBee specification is a combination of HomeRF Lite and the 802.15.4 specification. The specification operates in the 2.4GHz radio band--the same band as the 802.11b standard, microwaves and cordless phones--over 16 channels.

It is capable of connecting 255 devices per network. The specification supports data transmission rates of up to 250 kilobits per second at a range of up to 98 feet. ZigBee's technology is slower than 802.11b, at 11 megabits per second (mbps), and Bluetooth, at 1mbps, but it consumes significantly less power.

Graeme Wearden of ZDNet UK reported from London. CNET News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report from San Francisco.

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