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New chip may take your refrigerator to the Web

An Israeli chipmaker says it is the first to add wireless Internet access to a chip that can be used in everything from vending machines to refrigerators.

A small Israeli chipmaker says it has become the first company to add wireless Internet access to a primary chip that can be used in everything from vending machines to refrigerators, potentially speeding the development of Internet data transfer in such products.

Connect One's iChip Internet Controller is a peripheral chip designed to work with a machine's central processing chip to mediate and control an Internet connection. The chip is designed to work with wireless Internet connections using the Global Systems for Mobile Communications (GSM) network, which is primarily used in Europe.

The iChip is the first processor to integrate this wireless functionality directly into the chip, according to Connect One. The integration solves a couple of problems, analysts say, mainly in terms of reducing manufacturing time and costs.

The chip is designed for machines with a wireless Net connection that are used in e-commerce, environmental or medical applications, according to the company. These so-called embedded appliances generally consist of household or industrial machines connected to the Internet.

"Companies adopt our technology to respond quickly to market demand for Internet connectivity," Alan Singer, vice president of marketing, said in a statement.

Connect One, which is based in Kfar Saba, Israel, will sell the chip in quantities of 10,000. The chips cost $20 each, less than the $30 two-chip solution currently on the market, according to analyst Linley Gwennap of consulting firm The Linley Group.

"This certainly sounds like a step forward in reducing the cost of adding Internet access and simplifying the design process," Gwennap said.

Connect One's chip includes 512 kilobytes of onboard flash memory to store Internet protocols. Using one chip instead of two generally simplifies designing and manufacturing appliances, Gwennap said. "Normally there would be a separate processor with the flash memory and protocols."

Although the integration of the Internet protocols will simplify efforts for designers, Connect One's support for the GSM network may hamper the company's hopes for widespread adoption, according to Ken Dulaney, a mobile device analyst with market research firm Gartner.

Used primarily in Europe, GSM is slower and more expensive to use than next-generation networks, Dulaney said, explaining that for most embedded appliances, manufacturers would be unlikely to opt for GSM support.

"GSM is very inefficient," Dulaney said, adding that Connect One is likely to be the first to get a product on the market because other chipmakers, namely Qualcomm and Nokia, are probably working on products for faster next-generation wireless networks.

"It's fine that they're the first, but I think that's because people are working on other solutions."