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Microsoft ditches MSN Direct

Out, damned SPOT

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MSN Direct, Microsoft's data broadcast network, is to be switched off in 2012, leaving literally dozens of users bereft of updates and another Microsoft initiative in the dust.

Microsoft will be switching off broadcasts over its MSN network at the end of 2011, ending the company's half-decade foray into wireless consumer electronics and demonstrating that mobile telephone networks can provide for every kind of connectivity.

MSN Direct is a broadcast service that piggybacks on FM radio signals to send weather, news and (more recently) traffic information to receive-only devices. Originally these included SPOT (Smart Personal Object Technology) watches which sold a few, but in the last few years the service has moved towards providing map updates to satellite navigation kit. But these days the cellular networks are meeting that requirement, making MSN Direct a mere footnote of broadcasting history.

The broadcast nature of MSN Direct is its obvious failing: sending the same data to everyone is only efficient if everyone wants to know the same thing. News headlines and map updates work fine, but more granular subscriptions become inefficient, and functionality such as email notification is all but impossible over a broadcast network.

The FM receivers are cheaper and much more power-efficient than mobile phones, but the latter offers unicast connectivity and has got a lot cheaper both in terms of hardware and service, making it more competitive with services such as MSN Direct. As Microsoft puts it on the MSN Direct FAQ:

"Leveraging unused FM radio spectrum to broadcast data represented a step forward in 2004, however, many choices today including Wi-Fi, Cellular, FM RDS and other digital networks are now readily available and are continuing to grow in popularity... these alternatives have significantly reduced demand for MSN Direct service."

The last SPOT watches were sold in April last year, which is a shame as wristwatches seem to be coming back into style lately - though it's still hard to imagine reading news headlines on them. ®

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