Wireless USB Makes a Splash

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Cables connecting USB devices to PCs may soon disappear thanks to Wireless USB, a short-range wireless communications technology developed by nonprofit USB Implementers Forum Inc. (USB-IF), which also developed the USB 2.0 standard.

Combining wireless and USB (Universal Serial Bus) connectivity, this technology allows for high-bandwidth wireless data transfers between PCs and USB devices like printers, scanners and portable hard drives. A new set of peripherals based on the standard was introduced in July, including Certified Wireless USB kits from D-Link Systems Inc. and Iogear Inc.

Both kits come with a wireless USB adapter that wirelessly communicates with a hub that holds multiple wired USB devices. There are more than 2 billion wired USB installs globally, according to the USB-IF. These kits are geared to serve them in addition to supporting full wireless connectivity between USB devices.

As product lifecycles change, wired USB ports could be replaced by Wireless USB chips embedded in hardware, said Jeff Ravencraft, technology strategist for Intel Corp. and president and chairman of USB-IF. Lenovo and Dell have already embedded Wireless USB chips in the Inspiron 1720 and ThinkPad T61 laptops respectively.

Using UWB (ultrawideband) technology, Wireless USB devices can communicate in a 10-meter range at up to 480M bps (bits per second). Data transfers top out at two meters to three meters, with throughput reaching 110M bps at 10 meters, Ravencraft said.

Data is transferred in the 3.1GHz to 10.6GHz spectrum and interference with other wireless devices is minimal. "In a particular given spectrum area, if there is conceived to be interference, the radio can turn off the particularly segment of that frequency and use other bands to communicate," Ravencraft said.

USB-IF is built on WiMedia Alliance's ultrawideband Common Radio Platform. In addition to its own WiNet, WiMedia Alliance's radio platform is also being implemented into Bluetooth Special Interest Group's Bluetooth 3.0 and 1394 Trade Association's Wireless 1394 wireless technologies. UWB was approved for use in the U.S. in 2002, Japan and South Korea in 2006, and Europe in March 2007, according to a WiMedia Alliance spokeswoman. Canada is reviewing UWB and China is under development, she said.

"The high data rate of the UWB wireless technology will enable consumers to transfer audio, video, and large data files from USB peripherals to their PCs more efficiently," A.J. Wang, D-Link's chief technical officer, said in a statement.

The goal was to make Wireless USB as easy to use as wired USB, Ravencraft said. "Wireless USB was designed by the same companies that defined Hi-Speed wired USB," he said. Future iterations of the technology will boast higher speeds and better ways to associate a device with a host.

In the meanwhile, early adopters can drool over the Certified Wireless USB kits from D-Link and Iogear.

D-Link's take on Wireless USB

D-Link's UWB DUB-9240 Wireless USB Kit comes with a USB hub and adapter, which allows multiple USB devices to connect wirelessly to a PC. A plug-and-play Wireless USB adapter plugs into a PC's USB port, and communicates wirelessly with a USB hub that holds up to four wired USB devices.

A wizard allows users to connect peripherals to a PC easily. By adding a wired USB hub, the ports can be expanded to accommodate more devices, the company said. The kit will be available later this year for US$219.99.

The company will also separately ship the $119 DUB-2240 4-port Wireless USB Hub and the $119 D-Link DUB-1210 Wireless USB adapter later this year.

Iogear's Wireless USB chip shot

Iogear has jumped into the Certified Wireless USB field with the Wireless USB Hub and Adapter Kit, which enables high-speed, wireless connectivity between USB devices and PCs. The kit comes with a hub and a dongle -- much like D-Link's wireless USB kit -- but it can connect to three PCs.

After plugging in the Wireless USB adapter, software that comes with the kit generates an encryption key, which is also transferred to the hub's firmware. The hub and dongle identify each other by matching the encryption key. Once the devices match up, the user is shown the peripherals attached to the hub.

The hub can be used between three machines. Machine-switching is possible by pressing a button on top of the hub, said Bryan Wells, senior product marketing manager at Iogear.

The kit has been certified both by USB-IF and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, Wells said.

The $199.95 kit will ship later this year. The company will also ship independently ship a Wireless USB Hub and Wireless USB Adapter, both for $99.95, later this year.

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