by September 10, 2007 0 comments

USB is officially untethered now. What allowed you till yesterday to plug in
your digicam, MP3 player, or any other hardware device, now requires you only to
place your device within a definite radius around your PC, to perform the same
USB functions. In other words, you no longer need a wire running to your PC.
Thanks to Wireless USB (WUSB).

According to Universal Serial Bus-Implementers Forum (USB-IF), Wireless USB
is the first wireless personal interconnect technology, which is backward
compatible with wired USB, and allows users to connect up to 127 devices, and
promises a bandwidth of up to 480 MBps at a range of 4 metres and 110 MBps at 10
metres. It is based on the WiMedia Alliance Ultra-Wideband Common Radio
Platform, and its development began in February 2004, with the formation of the
Wireless USB Promoter Group, which consisted of Agere Systems, HP, Intel,
Microsoft, NEC, Philips Semiconductors, and Samsung. A year later, the Wireless
USB specification was completed and in June 2006, the USB-IF carried out its
first ever demonstration of the WUSB, using an Intel host adapter, by
transferring a HD video from a Philips wireless semiconductor system, using an
Though not directly, WUSB has a connection with the WiMedia Alliance, a body
that regulates and sustains interoperability of Ultra-Wideband (UWB). Presently,
WUSB uses UWB platform, while other protocols like Bluetooth are expected to
follow soon.

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In the same league
The obvious comparison for WUSB would be with Bluetooth and WiFi, and though
one might like to believe that all three are doing the same thing, the idea of
WUSB is to provide a high bandwidth protocol. It works for a shorter range than
WiFi, but with higher transfer rate than Bluetooth, which works on the same 2.4
GHz radio device. Subtly put, the idea of WUSB is to trace the middle path
between Bluetooth and WiFi.
Interestingly, the only other company that has embarked into the WUSB space is
Motorola powered Freescale Semiconductors, with its offering called Direct
Sequence UWB, which transmits a series of low power pulses at frequencies in the
range of 3.1 GHz to 10.6 GHz. However, no manufacturer has begun making products
that use this protocol yet.

The most important element of WUSB is the Micro-scheduled Management Command
(MMC) that helps ‘seek and find’ a Wireless USB cluster (a virtual wireless
network formed by wireless devices found in the area), understands its working,
manages power, and schedules data transmissions as fast as possible. WUSB also
contains a UWB information frame, with multiple elements, each taking care of a
particular function. Unlike USB, WUSB does not use the Start of Frame (SOF) mode
of sending information as packets to the device for synchronization. In turn, it
uses MMC to transmit information queries to the connected devices at regular

Looking back
Wireless USB, in a way, is a product of natural progression that was to
happen sooner or later. What began as a first generation plug-n-play system that
operated at a speed of 12 mbps, morphed in 2000, into a high performance data
transfer mechanism called USB 2.0, which currently delivers up to 480 mbps—a 40
fold rise in data transfer rate. USB exterminated a term called ‘parallel port’
from the hardware engineer’s dictionary, and most peripheral devices chose to
make do with this system, offering their products in only the USB compatible
format. More than anything, it was the printer manufacturers who embraced USB
the most, besides lifestyle portables. The next obvious graduation would be to
make these devices ‘talk’ to your PC or laptop wirelessly.

First line of products featuring
wireless USB (clockwise)-Lenovo Thinkpad T61, D-Link USB 4-port hub, IOGEAR
USB hub with adapter kit, and Dell Inspiron 1720

Compatible products
Coinciding with the official launch of WUSB, the USB-IF announced a list of
hardware products that passed its compliance and certification tests. Dell’s
Inspiron, and Lenovo’s Thinkpad have been the first to incorporate WUSB to their
machines, with D-Link and IOGEAR being the first to create connectivity
hardware. This includes Dell’s Inspiron 1720, priced upwards of $900
internationally, which is powered by Intel’s Core 2 Duo T5250 chipset, an anti
glare 17 inch display and a 120 GB SATA hard drive. The Thinkpad, however, seems
to be getting a bad reputation of a ‘station wagon’ since it’s a little bulky
for its class, but claims to be the first to incorporate WUSB compatibility. It
gives customers the option of choosing an Intel or nVIDIA graphics card, and is
positioned as a business-only machine.

On the other hand, D-Link’s wireless adapter and hub has an interesting
concept to back it up—the hub is essentially something which allows you to
connect multiple devices with it. The adapter, however, has a flip that you open
and plug into the USB socket of your PC or laptop, after which it wirelessly
syncs up to the hub, in turn connecting with any device found in the range of 30

These devices are only the initial handful to embrace WUSB. What one can
really expect here to find many applications around WUSB coming up, in a few
months. Take Bluetooth for instance. What began as a short-range mode of
communication between two devices, Bluetooth saw itself being known as the
mobile connectivity technology. An estimated 600 million Bluetooth devices were
shipped world over in 2006 according to a survey conducted by the Bluetooth
Special Interest Group. Now picture a technology that communicates with your
mobile device 500 times faster than Bluetooth, and works more efficiently at
shorter ranges. All we need for that to happen is somebody out there to sync up
WUSB for mobile applications. This is assuming that the upcoming models of
digicams, music players, printers and other hardware devices will come with WUSB

The road ahead
For now, the biggest compelling thing that stands out is the fact that
Wireless USB is backward compatible. According to a survey conducted by
corporate analysts, In-Stat, there are 11 million wireless devices in the world
today, and this number can easily be expected to double, by 2010. In absence of
WUSB, it would simply mean so many more wires, crisscrossing each other and
creating one big jungle of wired devices. The way things are going currently,
WUSB is well capable of becoming a standard every hardware manufacturer swears
by, and in the long run, may reduce manufacturing costs as well.

But data errors could still be a concern, especially if the information
packets are bigger, and if you try to send it to the last mile. Anyways it still
scores over the wired USB for which the range is zero.

Vishnu Anand

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