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Machine talks to machine in Nokia debut

With a nod from carrier AT&T Wireless, Nokia sets off the first commercial use of its machine-to-machine technology, which uses cell phone networks to remotely monitor systems.

Nokia-made technology that lets machines use cellular telephone networks to interact with computer systems or other machines is making its U.S. debut.

The first commercial use of Nokia's version of so-called machine-to-machine (M2M) networks began Tuesday inside the offices of BioLab, a water-treatment product provider. The company is using Nokia equipment--including a shoebox-size cellular antenna--to remotely monitor the pH and sanitizer levels in swimming pools.

M2M product lines bring together software and hardware designed to let devices automatically send an alert--to a business's computer network or even to an information technology manager's cell phone, for example--about any number of crises, such as a machine breaking down or stock running out.

The small Nokia M2M devices that attach to the machines to let them interact cost between $250 and $350 each, said company spokesman Keith Nowak.

M2M has attracted some big-name supporters, including Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Intel, which are all trying to capture a bigger slice of the emerging market for gear that wirelessly monitors machines and company assets.

AT&T Wireless is also interested in the remote monitoring technology, having already approved the use of Nokia-made M2M equipment on its network, a representative for the carrier said Tuesday. BioLab is using AT&T Wireless's GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network for its M2M service.

M2M is meant to work alongside--and ultimately replace--similar remote monitoring systems that use traditional landline telephone networks. Analysts say wireless M2M systems are cheaper to install because there is no need to string hundreds of miles of telephone lines to connect equipment in remote areas.

An M2M system can also make small remote fixes to a machine in trouble, saving the costly repair visit that a landline telephone system demands, said Keith Waryas, a wireless analyst with research firm IDC.

"I would expect every major carrier to offer M2M in the next eight months," he said. "It seems like a no-brainer."

The Nokia equipment for now works only on GPRS networks, which are the wireless Web arm of GSM networks. GSM is the world's most popular cell phone standard. However, the Finnish cell phone company has hinted that it's working on an M2M system that uses the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) standard, which powers about 20 percent of the world's telephone networks, a source said.