You may now unplug
Wireless USB frees you from cables
By John “jaQ” Andrews firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ll go ahead and say it: USB is the best thing to happen to PCs since Windows.
Settle down, settle down. No one who’s ever typed more than a sentence in Word can honestly say they’ve never belted out a stream of profanities at their computer, but it’s hard to deny that Microsoft’s relentless marketing and insistence on developing fatter and more bloated operating systems has helped drive great advancements in PC hardware. Genuinely fast computers are impossibly cheap now, and with 95 percent of them running the same pointy-clicky software, most folks can pick up the basics of using one pretty quickly.
USB did a similar thing to computing by making it easy to add devices. If you don’t remember ever having to hook up a serial mouse, a parallel printer or, heaven help you, a SCSI scanner, consider yourself lucky. A good number of peripherals, from keyboards to flash drives, just work when you plug them in; others require just an automatic driver install from a CD when you connect them. Either way, pretty painless compared to manually setting SCSI IDs or assigning COM ports.
Now USB is getting even simpler by removing that annoying “plug it in” step. Wireless USB aims to be as intuitive as regular old USB without all that messy cabling, all while maintaining healthy 480Mbps data transfer speeds. You can use devices up to three meters away at that speed, or up to 10 meters away at a still respectable 110Mbps.
Like wired USB, the new technology supports up to 127 connected devices. That’s not just printers, MP3 players and digital cameras, either. With cabling needs removed, developers hope to build PC connectivity into a lot more things through the wireless USB interface. Things like televisions, DVD players and digital video recorders. They figure there are enough wires behind your living room entertainment center already, who needs more?
With all the USB devices out there now — the USB Implementers Forum estimates 2 billion — it’s comforting to know that that wireless USB will be backward compatible. How can wired and wireless technologies be compatible? Why, with an adapter, of course.
Some of the first wireless USB devices to be announced are basically hubs. Technically called Device Wire Adapters (DWAs), they provide a few regular old USB ports along with a wireless connection back to your PC, which presumably has wireless USB built in or a Host Wire Adapter (HWA) plugged into one of its USB ports. If you need more ports, you can add more DWAs or simply daisy chain some wired USB hubs on the first one.
Can you buy wireless USB stuff yet? Well, no. If you really need wireless data transfer right now, check out your Bluetooth options and prepare to be underwhelmed.
Or just keep using the cables.