New radio technology connects USB devices wirelessly
Apr 6, 2008, 12:35 GMT
Hanover, Germany - USB ports are practical. They can be used to connect a keyboard, printer or digital camera to a PC in seconds flat. The major drawback is the various cables that end up cluttering your workstation.
The good news: A new wireless technology may soon be ready to provide some relief in this area. It is known as Wireless USB, or WUSB for short. The first devices using the technology were presented in early March at the CeBIT computer fair. Even so, most consumers may not find it worthwhile to make the switch just yet.
'Users nowadays must often connect a whole gaggle of devices via USB - and the new technology makes this possible without the cable jungle,' says Mike Lange from hardware maker D-Link. His company used the CeBIT electronics fair to present new WUSB adapter that will be hitting stores in the fall for around 100 dollars.
The DUB-9240 consists of a receiver for the PC and a transmitter that can connect to up to for USB devices. 'It is intended for a home workstation or small office,' Lange says. Hardware maker Belkin has announced a similar device.
The benefit in comparison to other wireless standards like Bluetooth is the greater bandwidth, says Manfred Breul from the Berlin-based industry association BITKOM. WUSB achieves speeds of up to 480 Megabits per second (Mbit/s), while Bluetooth currently climbs no higher than 2 Mbit/s. The new wireless technology also uses less electricity than WLAN.
The higher speed connections are noticeable, particularly when large data volumes are being moved, Lange says. 'WUSB allows for videos to be moved wirelessly from Camcorders to the PC,' says Bruel. It also makes it easier to move music and photos from an external hard drive.
'For the majority of consumers, this just isn't ready yet - the technology is still in the early stages of getting its footing,' says Dusan Zivadinovic from Hanover-based c't magazine. WUSB also has a relatively short broadcast radius, severely limiting its applicability.
'You can't network the entire apartment using it. It can't get through things like thick walls,' says Zivadinovic.
The wireless technology is also relatively expensive compared with USB cable solutions. D-link spokesman Lange does see prices dropping by early 2009 as additional makers will start bringing their products onto the market.
'All the same, it will only start being really of interest to consumers once the interfaces are built en masse into cell phones and cameras - and that may well last two years or so,' explains BITKOM spokesman Breul.
In the U.S., companies like Samsung have already announced televisions with integrated WUSB ports, Lange says.
WUSB has been on sale for several months there already. One problem for customers is that devices from other countries may not always be compatible with foreign products. That's because the new US version of the wireless standard works with a different frequency spectrum that in Germany, for example.
The problems are correctable through firmware updates, but as Zivadinovic notes: 'It always depends on whether the manufacturer provides them.'
It also remains to be seen whether the technology will prove itself viable in the long term. After all, the competition isn't resting either. The Bluetooth standard, for example, will soon work faster thanks to Ultra WideBand technology (UWB).
'Bluetooth is also already established - it's already built into most cell phones right now,' says BITKOM spokesman Breul. It seems unlikely therefore that WUSB will beat out current radio technology any time soon. 'In the best case scenario it will replace the previous USB connection-and even then only for devices that don't draw their power via USB.'
This after all is a disadvantage of wireless technology: there is no wireless power supply as yet. Which means that WUSB can't completely rid its users from power strips at the workstation, or magic away the plug to the wall for printers and external hard drives.
INFO BOX: Wireless USB: The new Wireless USB (WUSB) technology is a radio-based extension of the USB standard that allows for easy connection of computers, digital camera and other devices. The radio technology can broadcast across distances of up to three metres at transfer rates of up to 480 Megabits per second (Mbit/s).
That corresponds to the speed achieved across cable-based USB connections. The transfer rates drop proportional to the distance, however: at 10 metres it can only achieve 110 megabits per second.