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IBM lays foundation for home gateways

The computing giant teams with National Semiconductor to help companies develop products to connect the Internet to home appliances, PCs and other household gadgets.

IBM on Tuesday said it has teamed up with National Semiconductor to help companies develop products that connect the Internet to home appliances, PCs and other electronic gadgets in a household.

Their development bundle combines a version of IBM's WebSphere software, designed for smaller devices such as handheld computers and set-top boxes, with National Semi's Internet appliance Geode processor for so-called home gateways. Home gateways are computers that allow consumers to securely connect electronic devices including PCs and security systems to their phone service and high-speed Net access.

The companies are aiming at a home-networking market that remains largely unformed. The technology is intended to help companies reduce the time it takes to develop applications for use in home networking.

The bundle is scheduled to be available in August, the companies said.

An early customer for the technology is Chinese manufacturer Shanghai General Electronics Group, which plans to use it to develop applications that can remotely monitor and control Web-enabled appliances for the home. C.P. Technology, a Taiwan-based company that specializes in home technology, said it will also begin using the combined products for its new home Net appliance.

Although the fledgling home-networking market hasn't taken off as fast as the industry had anticipated, the sector is still expected to explode in the coming years as more consumers get high-speed Net access and want their home electronic devices to be linked via the Web. With such a setup, a homeowner could use a PC in the bedroom to turn off the oven in the kitchen or turn on a security system.

Many companies including IBM, National Semi, Microsoft, 3Com and Sunbeam have been active in the sector.

Earlier this year, retail giant Sears Roebuck linked arms with IBM spinoff Home Director to join the home-networking parade. Sears is offering Home Director's networking products to home builders in certain U.S. locations and will eventually make them available nationwide.

Still, the market for Internet-enabled appliances has struggled with slow consumer adoption. In March, 3Com announced the termination of Audrey, its Web-surfing appliance, and Kerbango, an Internet radio. While it will still make home-networking products, 3Com also plans to disband its entire Internet appliance division, which it created last year.