Wireless USB on its way

This emerging technology promises to be the next big thing in the personal area network, both at home and in the office

Imagine you reached home with your smartphone full of important messages, your pen drive full of files and your digicam crammed with pictures. Now sitting at your computer table, what if you could access the content of all of these devices and transfer them to your computer without taking them out from your pockets or bag and without using wires?

If you could do that, you’d be using wireless USB, which could be the next big thing for the personal area network (PAN). Some time back, Wipro demonstrated a high definition video transfer between two laptops over the Ultra Wide Band (UWB), a breakthrough which put it in a select band of companies and inch it towards many technologies including those like wireless USB.

UWB is a short-range wireless protocol that promises to give great throughput at short distances. It is faster and more secure than most wireless protocols. So much so that both USB and Bluetooth groups are trying to merge their existing technologies with UWB. You will be able to transfer heavy multimedia content without much effort.

Explains Donald MacDonald, Vice-President of Intel’s Digital Home Group, “In ultra wide band, short pulses are transmitted over a wide spectrum. Because it transmits on several channels at once, it leads to less interference. It also makes it much easier to move content to mobile devices.”

Says Wipro Solutions Architect Vivek Wandile, “UWB is great for lesser distances and gives a much greater throughput than today’s Wi-Fi at that short range. This would be good in a digital home where Bluetooth will not be able to handle high-data multimedia transfer.”

The Intel-backed WiMedia Alliance is readying to come out with UWB systems that will work as physical layer replacements for (apart from USB) FireWire (1394) and TCP/IP.

Simon Johney, Wipro’s Group Head for Semiconductor IP is also very optimistic about the future of UWB.

“Surveys have shown that most people do not transfer pictures from their digicam and most of them get overwritten. Wireless USB would be ideal to transfer pictures to a laptop or computer without much of a bother,” he says.

He adds that the beauty of UWB is that it will allow other technologies like USB and Bluetooth to ride over it. Both the respective committees are working together to that end. With a UWB, one antenna will be able to support all the wireless protocols.

In fact, Fractus has already launched such an antenna, which measures just 10×0.8 mm. You could put that on practically any device. Even Bangalore ‘s MindTree is working on UWB.

That’s one option that a digital home of the future could have. A UWB-powered personal network in your bedroom within a Wi-Fi powered home network within a WiMax powered city network.

However, the only competition it could get is from the 802.11n protocol, which promises to be 10 times faster than current Wi-Fi networks and the throughput will be enough even from one end of a house to another.

But out of all the emerging short-range wireless technologies, UWB promises to work well whatever the gadget, whatever the setup.

(This article appeared in the December 2005 edition of Living Digital magazine)