Wireless USB


5 Aug 2011
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The rapid pace at which computing technology advances often makes us fantasize about ‘the next big thing’! Frequently, the fantasy becomes reality. Let’s find out if it has happened with USB.

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) came into existence at a time when our world was ruled by cable clutter, driver issues and constant computer reboots. It took the world by storm, and now almost every peripheral under the Sun works with USB. Now, after a few incremental upgrades to the standard, there’s a new technology brimming with the potential to change the way we think about computer peripherals once again. This technology aims to get entirely rid of the messy web of cables behind our desktop PCs. It promises to eliminate the need for the physical contact of peripherals with computers. The nearly-decade-old USB standard is about to get a facelift. Yes, it’s about to go wireless! That’s right folks, by the end of this year we will witness the launch of the wireless USB (WUSB) standard. With this interface, we will soon be able to use our future peripheral devices such as digital cameras, printers, scanners, multi-function devices, and many other gizmos without any wires at all.

While the technology will boast the same specifications as USB 2.0, it will not use any cables. Currently, we’re aware of wireless solutions such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and WiMAX that play their own roles in fulfilling our computing needs.

However, WUSB can give Bluetooth technology a marathon for its money as it is based on a similar principle. However, it’s too early to pass that judgement—only hands-on experience will give us a completely clear and practical picture. The most obvious distinction between Bluetooth and USB is—you guessed it right, a cable! WUSB is here to eradicate that niggling difference. Of course there are other significant technical aspects that differentiate the two (more on that later). First, let’s get a taste of the technology and find out what it has to offer.

What is Wireless USB (WUSB)?
Using WUSB instead of USB is somewhat like using a cordless phone instead of a fixed landline phone. It’s a peer-to-peer data transmission method which can be useful and hassle-free, because it offers the speeds of the wired technology and convenience of the wireless. It works somewhat like Bluetooth, wherein two devices are paired for secure communication. The main difference is that WUSB will work at a considerably higher speed. WUSB works on the Wimedia Alliance’s UWB platform and is capable of transmitting data at a speed of 480 Mbps up to a distance of 3 meters, and at a speed of 110 Mbps up to a distance of 10 meters. Its frequency ranges from 3.1 to 10.6 GHz.

Here’s how the technology will work
According to the USB-IF association, there will be two methods to establish a wireless connection between a device and the host/computer. The first method is to connect the device physically to the PC for configuration and later re-establish the connection wirelessly. In the second method, WUSB-compliant devices flash a numeric code which is then entered on the host computer to help pair the two devices. If a device does not have an LCD display, the host has to search for it and approve it to establish a successful connection. This also applies to handheld devices such as PDAs that might not have a keypad—they too will have to be searched for to detect a wireless connection.

USB over the air
Wireless connectivity to nearby devices will become astonishingly easy with this development. Frequent flyers and business executives will now be able to connect their laptops to a nearby printer, scanner, or any other storage device in a jiffy. This technology will also ensure security as a device will exchange data only with the computer it is connected to at any given time. As discussed earlier, one can pair a device to the computer and map a key (number) that will act as a pass code to prevent a security breach. One of the most striking features of WUSB is that there will be no interference with neighboring radio controlled devices, because WUSB does not transmit continuous radio sine waves like other wireless devices do (see box, ‘UWB’).

WUSB vs other wireless technologies
Bluetooth is a technology that makes use of a specific standard for short-range wireless communication. It connects handheld, portable, and even stationary devices to each other. These devices can be paired with each other on a one-to-one basis. Only one device can be connected to another at the same time, ensuring a high level of security.

Based on the IEEE 802.11 standard, Wi-Fi is a generic wireless interface mainly used for networking computers that are in limited proximity. Lately, mobile computing devices such as mobile phones and laptops have also started using Wi-Fi technology to go wireless.

Wi-Fi is seeing wide use in creating completely wireless environments in homes and offices. With the integration of ADSL modems into wireless routers, one can now get wireless Internet access out of the box. But it gets better with a live Wi-Fi connection and Wi-Fi compliant devices. You can now watch movies, listen to music, keep a watch on your home over the Internet and do a lot more wirelessly.

While having numerous wireless communication standards to choose from, one might wonder which one is ideal to use. Each one of these technologies has their own place in the consumer and corporate sectors. WUSB being a short range connectivity method (at least for now), would be best suited for a personal area network such as at home or a close-knit office environment.

So why do we need to use WUSB instead of other wireless solutions such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi? Besides the difference in speed, WUSB is an ultra-low power interface which conserves battery life. Wi-Fi is faster, but requires additional hardware and configuration unlike WUSB that will not require any add-on hardware. The user can simply pair the device and start using it, hot-plug style.

This new technology might have the potential to penetrate the consumer market to such an extent that in no time shall we see it conquering our home networking space. This could particularly mean eradication of cables to a great extent. At first there will be WUSB dongles and hubs available to establish wireless connectivity with computers. By the second quarter of 2008 there may be certified WUSB-capable (built-in) devices introduced such as digicams and printers.

With the introduction of the USB interface, serial and parallel ports became obsolete faster than one could imagine. Now that we have a more convenient technology at our disposal, the wired USB interface might just vanish. Poof!

Source : Chip magazine.
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