At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) later this week in Las Vegas, the first wireless products for homes that use ultrawideband (UWB) technology will be announced and demonstrated.
Belkin and Gefen will both be showing their products in the “cable-free USB” (Universal Serial Bus) category, using chips from Freescale Semiconductor. Meanwhile, Staccato Communications will show its own new Ripcord product family using UWB to power a Certified Wireless USB connection.
Belkin’s CableFree USB Hub is exactly that: plug a small dongle into your computer’s USB 2.0 port, and it will communicate with the four-port USB hub used to extend connections to printers, scanners and other devices. (Those devices, unfortunately, still have to use cables.)
By contrast, Freescale says the Gefen product, the Wireless USB Extender, will use a dongle on the computer end and the device end to get an instant connection at a distance up to 30 feet. It’s not a hub, but you’re truly cable free.
Both will also be running ExtremeUSB from Icron Technologies Corporation, which would ensure that no new software is needed — the computer will simply see the dongle as a USB “cable” connection.
The Belkin device should be available in the spring of 2006.
The Staccato Ripcoard annoucement means the other ultrawideband camp — the WiMedia Alliance — may also get a product on the market in the same category at the same time. WiMedia has made a big deal in the last few months over being the technology of choice for “Certified Wireless USB,” which is backed by the USB-Implementers Forum (USB-IF). WiMedia’s version of UWB (called MB-OFDM) was recently released as an international standard by Ecma. WiMedia member company Wisair announced a Wireless USB hub reference design in December 2005. Eventually it might even support a high-speed version of Bluetooth.
Ripcord products will feature a Host Wire Adapter and Device Wire Adapte to connect PCs and peripherals, plus options for hardware with an SDIO slot. Staccato will sell an development kit and reference designs for OEM vendors who wish to make Ripcord Wireless USB products.
Freescale is part of a different group, the UWB Forum, which uses a different version of UWB called Direct Sequence-UWB (DS-UWB). Freescale has previously stated that WiMedia’s approach with Certified Wireless USB will be too PC-centric, as it would require driver software, and that use of Icron’s ExtremeUSB makes the cable-free USB compatible with every device that has a USB port, from computers to mobile devices. Freescale and Icron demonstrated the technology as long ago as June 2005.
In-Stat says that there are 700 million USB devices on the market, and that number could go to 2.1 billion by 2009.