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Freescale makes a grab for wireless USB

Official standard could get beaten to the market

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Two vendors are rushing out wireless USB products based on Freescale's flavour of ultra-wideband (UWB), the fast short-range wireless technology, in a bid to steal the market from the official Intel-backed version of ultra-wideband.

Both Gefen and Belken will deliver products this spring, that carry a conventional USB 2.0 link across UWB wireless, allowing users to connect cameras and other devices to their PC without cables. Both are being demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

The products are described as "Cable-Free USB", because the USB Implementers' Forum has given its blessing to the Intel-backed WiMedia specification as the "official" future for USB without cables. WiMedia also succeeded in getting its specification rubber-stamped as a formal standard by the ECMA standards body.

Despite this, WiMedia still faces tough opposition. The Belkin and Gefen announcements underline Freescale is much closer to the market, and its proponents argue that Cable Free USB will be closer to today's USB than the "official" upgrade.

"The Freescale approach uses ultra-wideband to work with the existing USB specification," said a Freescale spokesperson. "It has an instant "out of the box" capability that allows anything that is certified USB to work without the cable and become a wireless solution."

"It is important to note that Certified Wireless USB will be USB in name only, for all practical purposes" said the Freescale spokesperson. "It is an entirely new specification requiring software updates and new hardware. Microsoft will need to support it in its next OS and it will require new drivers. The question becomes what will consumers and manufacturers embrace? An entirely new approach or one that leverages the nearly 1 billion certified USB devices in the market today?"

Both products use a USB dongle on the PC, which makes a wireless link to another device. In Belkin's case, this is a conventional USB hub which allows wired connections on to the client device; in Gefen's, it's a dongle that attaches to the client device direct. Both approaches use the ExtremeUSB extension technology from Icron.

While it looks like Freescale has got there first, WiMedia has a couple of options on the go. WiMedia member Staccato is working on Ripcord, a wireless link that will carry the new Wireless USB protocol, and Wisair released a reference design last month. Freescale claimed that this must still be considered an interim product until the Certified Wireless USB specification is finalised.



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