There are two schools of thought in the arcane tradition of naming wireless networking standards. One tends towards the cryptic number group, as in 802.11b, harking back to the days of five-figure Enigma codes crackling their way through war-swept skies. Cool. The other eschews this in favour of mysterious figures of myth and history -- Bluetooth, the ancient Scandinavian king, is a case in point.
The latest wireless standard is called ZigBee. I have no idea to whom, what or where this refers, but I'm trying to find out. (In an attempt to confuse the issue, it's also called 802.15.4: I'm ignoring that.) I'm also trying to find out how it works, what it's for and how it'll fit in with everything else. That's OK, that's my job -- what's not OK is that one of the primary ZigBee protagonists is Philips.
Philips is unique for a couple of reasons. It is Europe's only truly huge consumer and professional electronics company, and it is the hardest company to get any information out of. Ever. Sony comes close, but for sheer ineptitude at marketing, sales and PR, Philips takes the gold.
Let me illustrate. With a sinking heart, for I knew of old what was to come, I dug up the main Philips UK switchboard number and prepared myself. There was absolutely no point in asking about wireless networking -- let alone ZigBee -- at this point, but that's OK. I know the score.
"Hello, Philips". Ah, hello. Can I talk to your press office, please? "Hold on..."
"Hello?" Is that the press office? "No, we're Lighting Marketing. For lights." Could you put me through to the press office? "Sorry, I've no idea. I'll put you back to the switchboard."
"Hello, switchboard". I explain that I want to talk about a new computer networking system that Philips has invented. There's a couple of second's thought, then "Ah, you probably want Philips Semiconductors."
"Hello, Philips Semiconduct-ors!". Can I talk to your press office please? "Er, what's that then?" You know, people who talk to the press? "No, we don't have one of those." OK, no matter. Can I talk to Marketing? "No, I don't think we have one of those either." Sales department? "No, sorry." You must have a sales department! "Well, we do. But that's for customers. You're not a customer, so you can't talk to them." So, who can I talk to about a new product of yours? (Again, that couple of second's thought.) "'Old on. You'll 'ave to talk to Eindhoven".
"Hello, Philips gloelampverken unterseeboot carl weber oligarch? " (I may not have transliterated the Dutch exactly). Can I have your press office please? "Ah, certainly, but you'll have to call Amsterdam."
"Hello, Koningklijke Philips Electronics. Haring matjes schmaltz kipper Bismarck?"
And then, a miracle! I utter the word ZigBee, it gets an instant response and the very person I need to talk to is there. Well, her voicemail's there. The person herself is curiously absent. But it's only a matter of time...