HolidayBuyer's Guide

Cell phones for more than just dialing

Nokia and Matshushita want to bring wireless technology to home stereos, office audio-visual equipment and other gear. Meanwhile, your cell phone might control your thermostat.

Nokia and electronics maker Matsushita unveiled on Monday a wireless vision that extends to devices other than laptops, cell phones or personal digital assistants.

The two companies have home stereos, office audio-visual equipment and other gear not normally associated with wireless connections in their collective crosshairs, said Eija-Riitta Huovinen, a representative for Nokia's mobile software unit.

The yearlong research and development effort is more of a boundary test for wireless. Right now, the electronics industry has seen the need to add wireless only to select classes of devices, mainly laptops and handhelds like cell phones. There are thousands of other devices, including home stereos or office surveillance systems, that could benefit from not having to string wires everywhere, she said.

"We think consumers will benefit greatly," by creating a way for a cell phone, for instance, to monitor an office security system from afar or to adjust a thermostat while away from home, according to Yoshiaki Kushiki, Matsushita Electric managing director of multimedia and software technologies. Matsushita is perhaps best known for making Panasonic-brand products.

Matsushita will be building the devices, and Nokia will be lending its technology to the research. Both companies aren't commenting on the future plans, including when--and even if--products would surface. Huovinen said that after about a year, the two companies will evaluate whether to continue the research.

Nokia and Matsushita face not only technological hurdles. The two companies are also battling perhaps an even more daunting foe: competing wireless standards.

Manufacturers looking to shed devices' wires have generally used Wi-Fi, a wireless network with a 300-foot radius capable of top download speeds of 11mbps. Television makers, for instance, like Wi-Fi because it is fast enough to send a digital television signal from a set-top box to a television located a few hundred feet away.

Cellular, on the other hand, is a much slower network, generally capable of 20kbps and 60kbps downloads. But what these wireless networks lack in speed they make up for in numbers. There are thousands of more cell phones in the world than Wi-Fi networks, Huovinen said.

Some of the possible products bear this in mind. One of the partnership's first projects is trying to create a "universal remote" capable of controlling a large variety of devices from afar, she said. By adding wireless connections to a surveillance system, for instance, people could conceivably check on their home or office when they are away, she said.

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