The MOST Cooperation, a 65-member consortium that includes 14 global auto-makers and 51 suppliers seeking to develop a standard to allow interconnectivity for in-vehicle audio, video and data services, has decided to make its technology available royalty-free.

The decision ends a more than 18-month debate for the MOST Cooperation, initially formed with a small group of automakers and suppliers in 1996 and turned into a non-profit entity in 1998.

In its initial contract, the MOST Cooperation had set a license fee at a maximum of 0.3 euro per device. In May, it began to provide some specifications free, but its move here Tuesday makes all of the fiber optic wiring technology available at no charge.

MOST is targeted at simplifying development by carmakers and multimedia systems suppliers to design economical components that are compatible and able to communicate with each other on board vehicles. Such a protocol is the lynchpin in the industry's efforts to offer sophisticated telematics systems and plug and play capability of consumer products.

The MOST standard is similar in concept to the IEEE 1394 standard that is used in the computer and camera industries and that some are trying to take into the automotive sector. But proponents of MOST say 1394, which initially was developed in 1985, has not made much progress outside computers and cameras in the last 15 years. MOST was needed, they say, because automobiles - with their inherent harsher environments - need a more reliable wiring system than consumer products. "I don't think consumer products producers will take the leap to make their products robust enough for automobiles," says Herbert Hetzel of Oasis Silicon Systems, one of the founding partners in the MOST Cooperation.

Executives say that BMW will use MOST technology in a new model next year, and that at least four vehicle platforms will be in production with the wiring system by the end of 2002. Interest in adopting the protocol is equally high in Europe, the U.S. and Japan, executives say.