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Microsoft eyes global radio network to support smart devices

By Bob Brewin
January 10, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Microsoft Corp. eventually intends to build a global network to support the smart watches -- as well as other devices based on its Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT) -- introduced yesterday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas (see story).
Microsoft has already put together a network of more than 100 FM radio stations in the U.S. to broadcast precise time information and personalized data to the watches over an FM subcarrier it calls DirectBand.
According to Matt Penry, line manager for the custom silicon solution group at National Semiconductor Corp., which developed the tiny (1.3 by 1.1 by 0.08 in.) seven-chip SPOT circuitry for Microsoft, the FM tuner circuit is designed to cover a frequency range of 85 to 110 MHz, or well above and below the U.S. broadcast band. That band covers 87.5 to 108 MHz.
Bill Mitchell, general manager of the Microsoft Personal Object Group, said this frequency range will allow SPOT devices to operate in countries such as Japan, where the FM broadcast band runs between 76 and 92 MHz. Mitchell said Microsoft has conducted focus groups overseas on the SPOT technology and got strong, positive reactions in France. But, Mitchell said, Microsoft will focus on English-speaking countries, including Singapore, when it first takes the SPOT network global.
Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Md., questioned Microsoft's use of an FM subcarrier network to support SPOT, calling it an "old and slow" technology tried and then abandoned by the paging industry. (A subcarrier is a separate signal modulated along with the audio carrier and then decoded by a special receiver.)
Mitchell said the Microsoft Smart Personal Objects Group explored a variety of wireless networks to support SPOT before settling on the FM stations because of their breadth of coverage and relatively high throughput of 12K bit/sec. Microsoft will use two FM stations in each of the top 100 U.S. markets, as well as in 14 Canadian cities, to broadcast the personalized data to the watches. The devices will be produced by companies such as Citizen Watch Co. and Fossil Inc. and will go on sale this fall for roughly $150.
Users can sign up to receive personalized information -- such as sports scores or weather or traffic information -- which will be broadcast over the FM subcarrier data stream. National Semiconductor has built a personalized reception code into its circuitry, which will allow individual SPOT devices to pluck the personalized information out of the broadcast frames.
To feed data to the FM stations, Microsoft has



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