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Is that Wi-Fi on your sleeve?

Trying to find new uses for wireless networks, manufacturers have developed hands-free pagers with phone capabilities that will attach to a person's clothing.

Wi-Fi has gone wearable as manufacturers try to find new things for these wireless networks to do.


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After all is said and done, these wireless networks--now in an estimated 15 million homes and offices--can really only shuttle information from one place to the next. Wi-Fi needs to do more if it's going to stay alive, wireless executives say.

Companies like Wi-Fi start-up Vocera Communications are focusing on merging telephone networks with Wi-Fi's ability to deliver data over short ranges. On Tuesday, the company said it was teaming with chipmaker Intersil to create a pager system that uses Wi-Fi wireless networking equipment for voice capabilities and 4-inch-long rectangular "badges" worn on someone's clothing.

People will be able to operate the badges hands-free. But they need to be attached somewhere close to the face, like a person's collar or sleeve.

Vocera hopes to begin selling the equipment later this year. It'll be targeted at hospitals first, where federal rules prohibit the use of traditional cell phones because the transmissions interfere with the operation of some medical equipment.

Hospitals have relied on equipment from companies like SpectraLink or Nextel Communications, which both sell miniature cellular telephone networks. The SpectraLink systems use specially made cell phones.

Next week, a hospital located in San Francisco will begin a trial with a Vocera system, a company spokeswoman said.

There are smatterings of other pilot projects either ongoing or just concluded that are trying to teach new tricks to Wi-Fi, which is also known as 802.11b.

Tony Barra, president of the nonprofit Internet Home Alliance (IHA), said the group has been operating at least four pilot projects using Wi-Fi for something other than shuttling files.

A trial under way in Michigan, for example, allows a car pulling into the driveway to automatically arm or disarm a home's security system, turn on or off lights in the home, or adjust the home's thermostat.

In 150 Houston homes, Wi-Fi-powered devices similar to Web tablets have replaced the scribbled notes stuck under refrigerator magnets holding reminders about late soccer practices, Barra said.