By Eric Griffith
January 3, 2006
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) later this week in Las Vegas, the first wireless products for homes that will use ultrawideband technology will be announced and demonstrated. Belkin and Gefen will both be showing their products in the "cable-free USB" (Universal Serial Bus) category using chips from Freescale Semiconductor.
Belkin's CableFree USB Hub is exactly that: plug a small dongle into your computer's USB 2.0 port and it will communicate with the four-port USB hub used to extend connections to printers, scanners, and other devices. (Those devices, unfortunately, still have to use cables.)
By contrast, Freescale says the Gefen product, the Wireless USB Extender, will use a dongle on the computer end and the device end to get an instant connection at a distance up to 30 feet. It's not a hub, but you're truly cable free.
Both will also be running ExtremeUSB from Icron Technologies Corporation which would ensure that new software is needed, as the computer will simply see the dongle as a USB "cable" connection.
The Belkin device should be available in the spring of 2006. That might give enough time for the other ultrawideband camp — the WiMedia Alliance — to get a product out in the same category. WiMedia member company Wisair announced a Wireless USB hub reference design in December 2005. WiMedia has made a big deal in the last few months over being the technology of choice for "Certified Wireless USB" backed by the USB-Implementers Forum (USB-IF). Eventually it could also support a high-speed version of Bluetooth. WiMedia's version of UWB (called MB-OFDM) was recently released as an international standard by Ecma.
Freescale is part of a different group, the UWB Forum, which uses a different version of UWB called Direct Sequence-UWB (DS-UWB). Freescale as previously said that WiMedia's approach with the Certified Wireless USB will be too PC-centric as it would require driver software, and that using Icron's ExtremeUSB makes its own cable-free USB compatible with every device that has a USB port, from computers to mobile devices. Freescale and Icron had demonstrated the technology as long ago as June 2005.
In-Stat says that there are 700 million USB devices on the market and that number could go to 2.1 billion by 2009.
Ultrawideband kicks off at CES
January 04, 2006, 17:25 GMT
Three incompatible standards, two products and one show. Ultrawideband makes a start at getting to market.
The warring camps in the Ultrawideband (UWB) wireless market made their customary appearance at the CES show in Vegas on Wednesday — but only one announced any products.
Freescale, the semiconductor company spun out of Motorola last year, said that its Cable-Free USB (CF-USB) technology would be used inside devices that Belkin and Gefen will launch later this year.
Belkin's four-port USB hub — due in "early spring" — is designed primarily for laptop use: four standard USB2 devices plug into the hub, which then links to the computer via UWB. Gefen promised a wireless USB extender which replaces a USB 2 cable between the computer and a device, with production scheduled in the first quarter of 2006. No prices were given.
Freescale's major rivals for UWB, the WiMedia Alliance backed by Intel and Texas Instruments among others, is still pushing its Certified Wireless USB standard but had no dates for shipping products. Alliance member Staccato showed off a range of components in its Ripcord series of UWB chips and announced $18m (£10m) in an additional round of venture capital funding from existing investors, including Intel Capital's Digital Home Fund.
Meanwhile, dark horse company Pulse~LINK is promising to demonstrate CWave, its own unique UWB technology, linking high definition video screens wirelessly to laptops and games consoles. Uniquely, the company also claims that it will show the same technology used to distribute low-latency 400Mbps FireWire signals over 100m of coaxial cable, creating a broadband backbone for home video content. Chip samples for both wireless and wired applications will be available for sampling in the first quarter of 2006, says Pulse~LINK.