IrDA – Creating a wireless industry standard

January 20, 2011 | By More

Laying the foundation for a billion consumer devices to talk to each other had to start with a vision. In 1991 at HP Labs Bristol, this vision was called “The Appliance Strategy” – the term ‘appliance’ used to mean an electronic information device that had a single primary function, like a kitchen appliance. Cameras, phones, PDAs, printers were possible ‘information appliances’, if they were able to transfer information to each other. 

The question was how to get majority of the world’s consumer electronics companies like Sony, Casio, Motorola, Apple, Nokia, Philips and so on to adopt a single connectivity standard before the next ice age.

IrDA products from ACTiSYS

For the Appliance Strategy to be realised, we had to make a proposal that was likely to be adopted and then propose a process for adoption. We quickly realised for consumer electronics companies to adopt a new connectivity standard, it had to satisfy 3 important criteria: low cost to incorporate into new designs, functionally useful, and easy to implement.

In the early 90’s before RF wireless became affordable, the only option was infrared wireless. It would cost only US$2 to add, and even at that price, many CE companies thought it was too high. Eventually it would reach $1 and later 50 cents.

50 interested companies attended the charter meeting to hear about our vision and proposal in June 1993 and the Infrared Data Association (IrDA) was born. Its first specification IrDA 1.0 was published in June 1994 – a record for any international standard!

IrDA Press Conference in Tokyo

Eventually over 200 companies like Sony, Motorola, Nokia, Philips as well as IBM, Microsoft, Intel, HP, Sun and NEC became members. Kodak cameras were able to print to Epson photoprinters, as well as DoComo kiosks, Ericsson phones were able to exchange business cards with Palm PDAs and Casio watches, walk-up printing enabled any laptop to print documents on any printer without any cables. Within 5 years, over a billion devices had incorporated IrDA connectivity.

HP’s microelectronics division benefited from this new market for infrared components from virtually nil to US$65 million by 1997, with a 90% market share. A key component of the Appliance Vision had been put in place, and new business developed from it.

IrDA had built the foundations for wireless connectivity for information appliances. When Bluetooth was later developed, they adopted and incorporated key elements of their technology from IrDA.

Obtaining support from Toshiba Laptop group (author at right)

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