Microsoft millionaire opens wallet for ZigBee start-up

IT pioneers Paul Allen and Bob Metcalfe have put their faith in ZigBee, a wireless standard which could give billions of devices an Internet link

Ember, a start-up that is developing chips for ZigBee -- the low-cost, low-power wireless networking standard -- received $25m in venture capital funding this week.

The funding round was led by Venture Capital, the investment group of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It takes the total amount of money raised by Ember to $53m.

Ember also announced that Bob Metcalfe, who invented Ethernet some 30 years ago, has become company chairman. Metcalfe's Polaris Ventures group had already invested in Ember.

A number of major IT companies are involved in ZigBee, including Honeywell, Invensys, Mitsubishi, Motorola and Philips. Its advocates claim it will enable billions of everyday devices to be wirelessly connected to the Internet, as part of a self-healing and self-configuring wireless network.

"Of the more than eight billion microcontrollers built into products every year, less than 2 percent are network-enabled," said Steve Hall, director at Vulcan Capital, in a statement.

"That's an enormous opportunity for Ember as companies realise the advantages of linking microcontrollers into monitoring and control networks."

ZigBee is the offspring of a wireless format that companies are no longer supporting, called HomeRF. The ZigBee specification is a combination of HomeRF Lite and the 802.15.4 specification. The spec operates in the 2.4GHz radio band -- the same band as the 802.11b standard, microwaves and cordless phones -- over 16 channels.

It is capable of connecting 255 devices per network. The spec supports data transmission rates of up to 250Kbps at a range of up to 30 metres. ZigBee's technology is slower than 802.11b, at 11 megabits per second, and Bluetooth, at 1Mbps, but it consumes significantly less power.

CNET News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report.