CeBIT 2006: Networking – Part Two

I take a look at the new Wireless USB Standards. Is Intel trying to force things again?

The IT Industry is certainly not alien to the problem of conflicting standards. Just look at the range of DVD media available and the current HD-DVD/Blu-ray debacle, or even the arguments over the new 802.11n wireless standard. The latest argument that I seem to have stumbled across is that of Wireless USB.

The first report of WUSB that I came across was at the stand run by WiMedia – an independent group established to help create a standard for Wireless USB. Several companies have allied with WiMedia, including ATI, Siemens and quite prominently Intel.

The Intel representative I managed to corner gave me a pretty detailed technical insight to the Wireless USB technology. WUSB will be using UWB (Ultra Wide Band) frequencies with a range of around 10m. Initially, WiMedia is aiming for a 480Mbps speed to match USB 2.0. This is mainly because the first products available will be via a USB dongle (so USB 2.0 would be the limiting factor). Eventually they will be aiming for more speed, probably by bonding multiple channels together.

Eventually, they want to see WUSB chips implanted in to most common devices (such as cameras) and of course, for full compatibility they also want the new technology put directly on to motherboards.

Although this will use more battery power than Bluetooth, Intel were suggesting that because it will take a lot less time to do file transfers it will compensate for the slightly higher power requirements.

As with any wireless standard, security is of the up most importance. Each device will have to be paired with your computer much in the same way you would a wireless keyboard. However, instead of having a learn/teach facility – the user must manually validate the encryption hash. This will either be with a two digit panel somewhere on the device, or through a traditional USB cable and software.

Along comes Belkin then to confuse matters somewhat. It recently introduced the above device. This plugs in to a USB port and gives you a wireless USB hub. Naturally, any USB device can be plugged into it and put where you have deemed convenient. This device is about to be launched in America but is still illegal in Europe (as is WiMedia’s solution).

Belkin’s solution uses a different standard to WiMedia’s, based on a standard by Freescale. Although still UWB, it is apparently a much less complicated solution and uses less power. A Freescale representative I spoke to wasn’t at all happy and suggested the only reason that Intel were pushing WiMedia’s solution was to sell more motherboards.

Belkin’s product does look pretty cool and I wouldn’t deter anyone from buying it as it doesn’t lock you in to any standard. Whatever happens in the long-term is questionable and it’ll be a case of waiting for the dust to settle.

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