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Nokia, HP go machine to machine

The companies unveil a cigarette box-size "cell phone" and other equipment that let machines wirelessly communicate with other devices.

Hewlett-Packard and Nokia on Tuesday unveiled a cigarette box-size "cell phone" and other products that let machines wirelessly communicate with other machines.

The so-called M2M, or machine-to-machine, product line brings together software and hardware that let devices automatically send out 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.

"This is like a vending machine saying when it's empty," said Bob Simmons, HP's director of worldwide enterprise mobility.

The two companies are trying to capture more of the emerging market for gear that wirelessly monitors remotely located machines and company assets. Other companies making such equipment include big names like IBM and Intel.

HP and Nokia's M2M product line consists of three elements. The first is a cigarette box-size "phone" used to broadcast a machine's vital statistics. The device sits inside the machine and monitors how well it is functioning. It transmits the information using the world's most popular cell phone standard, Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM).

A server is also needed to translate the device's GSM transmissions into something a corporate computer network can understand and act on. HP's OpenView software, the third and final element of the gear, is used to manage the equipment.

HP and Nokia are selling the equipment directly to businesses, specifically targeting companies with manufacturing plants and public utilities with miles of gas or electrical lines to monitor, Simmons said. An HP representative said any company with a GSM service contract from a wireless carrier could use the gear.

Simmons said HP is also exploring whether GSM carriers in the United States--such as AT&T Wireless, T-Mobile or Cingular Wireless--would be interested in selling an M2M-like service to corporate clientele. But so far there have been no takers, he said.

Simmons did not provide details about the price of the products.