TODAY's world of wireless data communications is a young jungle.
Many companies are rushing to build a new generation of hand-held communicators. They will be as portable as cellular phones, but transmit primarily data instead of voice. Theoretically sending an electronic message would be as easy and as universal as picking up a phone.
So far, though, no one has figured out how to tie these disparate gadgets and systems together. But on April 28, Motorola Inc. will announce in New York City its plan to create such a system. The company, headquartered in Schaumburg, Ill., is "working on an architecture that would allow dissimilar devices - wired or wireless - to communicate with one another," says a source familiar with the project. "If you can create an environment where these devices communicate, they become much more useful."
Motorola officials declined to go into detail about the project, code-named Monet.
Such a system - Motorola's or someone else's - will become increasingly important as users move from today's one-way communicators, such as pagers, to the new breed of two-way wireless communicators. Already Pitney Bowes repairmen receive not only instructions on where to go next, but also can order replacement parts with a hand-held data terminal. A common network would allow the repairman to use the terminal to message his wife or fax an order for a pizza.
"The idea of compatibility and inter-operability is very important for the future," says Bill Weiss, a spokesman at AT&T.
"The idea of standards makes a lot of sense," adds Ray Desjardins, vice president of technical sales support with RAM Mobile Data. But he is skeptical that only one standard will emerge. "It's not likely any time soon that you will see just one architecture ... dominate the entire world," he says. "People aren't going to tear up their networks to adopt a new standard."
Motorola's project involves a combination of hardware and software that would create common standards and data gateways. The gateway would convert messages into a common format, which could then be sent to another Monet-enabled system.
Monet stands for mobile networks integration technology. It is an internal name only. Trademark conflicts will force the company to create some other public name for the system.
Motorola will implement the system in two stages. This year, it will introduce the gateways and convert its own wireless systems to use Monet protocols. The implementation should be very helpful to Motorola, which already runs two wireless networks: a one-way messaging system called EMBARC (Electronic Mail Broadcast to a Roaming Computer) and, with IBM, a two-way data network called Ardis.
That should allow someone to send a message from an Ardis-enabled device to an EMBARC communicator. But Motorola hopes to spread Monet beyond its own backyard. Motorola officials confirm that several companies will endorse its system at the April 28 conference. They declined to say which ones.
Mr. Weiss of AT&T said he had not heard of Monet. When Ram Mobile Data's chairman and chief executive officer, Carl Aron, was asked whether he was working with Motorola on the project, he declined to comment. The company runs a two-way data system similar to Motorola's Ardis.
Motorola is "going to be eliciting a lot of partners that will all write to this standard for inter-wireless networking," says Paris Burstyn, vice president of telecommunications research at Business Research Group in Newton, Mass.
The idea of tying together these far-flung networks and devices fits in with Motorola's strategy. The company plans to build equipment for virtually all niches of wireless communications.
Already well-known for its cellular telephones and pagers, the company is pushing to create new wireless gadgets: from one-way data broadcast devices such as NewsCard to a two-way messaging device called Infotac to new kinds of devices that could handle two-way, handwritten messages. By allowing all these devices to intercommunicate, each one would become more valuable.