Wireless USB: the future of PC connectivity

Wireless USB needs to be simple. That's the message from Jeff Ravencraft, the head of the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF). Giving a speech at the Amsterdam Hilton, Ravencraft said that Wireless USB has to deliver on its promise of giving easy short-range, wire-free access to devices.

Ravencraft is a man with a mission. Speaking to Tech.co.uk at the Amsterdam event, he said the USB-IF isn't concerned about other wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi. By his own admission Ravencraft is "only interesting in getting information from the device to the PC".

Future of mobility

He said the Implementers Forum is focused on "delivering the future of mobility to the consumer via Wireless USB". They need have access to "anything they want, when they want". He continued: "It has to be extremely easy...or the consumer won't use it."

During his keynote speech, Ravencraft used the example of his brother Frank. Frank sounds like the kind of guy we all know; people who are interested in what technology can do for them, but don't care how it actually does it.

Ravencraft's theme for his speech was 'imagine' - a reference to John Lennon and Yoko Ono's infamous 1969 'bed-in' here at the Amsterdam Hilton.

Intel's Preston Hunt demonstrated several Certified Wireless USB products including a native Lenovo ThinkPad T61p which had Wireless USB integrated. He also had Wireless USB hubs on display from Iogear and Belkin as well as a PC Card from Iogear. We should have our UK-centric mitts on these kits soon, now that Ofcom has paved the way for UWB (Ultra Wideband) kits to be released.

The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) is making great strides around the globe in terms of attaining regulatory approvals for the standard, and the UK is leading the way in Europe.

Wireless USB video adapter

Hunt also showed off a Wireless USB video adapter from Iogear that enables a display to be used directly with a Wireless USB device. "Digital cameras are one of the great opportunities for Wireless USB," enthused Ravencraft. "One wireless USB host can support up to 127 different devices [and] the key to these products is interoperability: the key to ease of use is interoperability."

Wireless USB matches the data rate of USB 2.0 at a 3 metre distance. Even better is the 1.1 spec which will be approved next year. We'll get kit in 2008 which will incorporate NFC (Near Field Communication) technology. That means your camera, for example, will automatically hook up to your PC and download pictures when they come into close contact. Also included in the new specification is a higher speed, 960Mpbs. After that, Ravencraft told us that speeds would surpass 1Gbps, but that is "some way off."

"We'll continue to provide enhancements - it just takes time," said Ravencraft. "We have a great way to associate products...[which will be] much easier as we go forward."

He's referring to the current way in which Wireless USB kit associates with each other. The first involves a numeric passcode, the second simply involves plugging in a wired cable to associate the kit.

In a later press briefing, Ravencraft briefed journalists on the Wireless USB 1.1 spec as well as talking up the possibilities for USB 3.0, announced at the recent Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

Stephen Wood, president of the WiMedia Alliance and another technology strategist at Intel, talked about the complexities of integrating yet another wireless standard into portable devices.

Antennae problem

"We now have quite a lot of wireless stuff in our notebooks...getting real estate [is difficult]." Wood said that Wireless USB and other technologies such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi would result in a total of seven different antennae inside most systems.

When asked why antennae hadn't yet been consolidated, Wood replied: "There's a different way to look at this. What we have successfully done is avoided the 10 antennae problem!" Wood's organisation is pushing towards integrated radio solutions that will provide support for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and UWB-Wireless USB needs.

Wireless USB will also be incorporated into desktop PCs - with a backplate antenna, much the same as that used in desktop Wi-Fi cards.

Bluetooth vs Wireless USB

When asked whether Bluetooth would compete with Wireless USB in the longer term, Ravenscraft was dismissive of any problem, even with a faster Bluetooth standard around the corner and NFC elements due to be included. "Bluetooth is a great technology...to make a connection between a headset and a handset. I don't think that's going to change. I wouldn't call it duplication.

"Over time, they'll blend more. [But] the PAN [Personal Area Network] space needs to be converging - from a technology perspective first," said Wood, referring to WiMedia's push towards converged radios.

Ravencraft thinks this should mean easier setup of wireless technologies for users. Lenovo's Wireless USB-enabled notebook groups the notebook's different wireless technology controls into a single interface - something of which the USB-IF approves. "We need to a common set of instructions that the user goes through," said Ravencraft, mentioning his brother Frank once more as the target for Wireless USB's ease-of-use ethos. He thinks there's a bit of Frank in all of us.


Dan (Twitter, Google+) is TechRadar's Former Deputy Editor and is now in charge at our sister site T3.com. Covering all things computing, internet and mobile he's a seasoned regular at major tech shows such as CES, IFA and Mobile World Congress. Dan has also been a tech expert for many outlets including BBC Radio 4, 5Live and the World Service, The Sun and ITV News.