USB gets unwired

Component manufacturer Cypress is touting a new wireless standard designed to free our keyboards, mice and games controllers from their cables.

WirelessUSB LS aims to allow any of these USB peripherals to operate wirelessly with your PC.

Unlike similar wireless technologies, such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, WirelessUSB LS isn't a networking solution. It works on a simple point-to-point basis, allowing, for example, your keyboard to talk to your PC, enabling fast, simple communication between a PC and USB device.

Currently setting up a wireless USB device requires you to plug a dongle into the USB port on your PC so that the peripheral in question can communicate with your computer. But once you have plugged in the Cypress dongle, any wireless USB device will work with your PC, unlike the more proprietary radio-frequency based wireless keyboards and mice on the market today. Cypress also hopes to encourage motherboard manufacturers to build the WirlessUSB LS chip directly on to boards so there would be no need for a dongle.

To ensure worldwide compatibility WirelessUSB uses the same 2.4GHz frequency as Bluetooth. The current version, LS, only offers a relatively slow data transfer rate of 62.5Kbps (kilobits per second), so it's only suitable for devices like keyboards and mice, but Cypress has plans to launch a faster version by 2005 which will support 10-20Mbps (megabits per second) data transfer rates, and as such will be able to work with USB devices like printers or digital audio players.

Cypress claims its technology has some other key advantages over the current crop of wireless devices, including a long battery life of six to nine months, improved stability over R/F-based solutions -- it says that there should be no interference between devices even if there are several in the same area -- and a low latency of less than 4ms (milliseconds), which means gamers will still get a quick onscreen response from gamepad actions.

It operates at a range of 10m, so there is no need to have a line of sight connection between PC and peripheral. This could mean that it's adopted by set-top box manufacturers that need remote control solutions which don't require the box to be easily accessible.

Cypress hopes that WirelessUSB LS will soon become the de facto standard for wireless PC peripherals, and plans to use its clout in the components market to push it forward. "We want customers to walk into PC World and get a wireless USB device that will work with anything, just like USB does now," explains Cypress' Christopher Jones.

There are already a couple of devices coming on to the market, including a wireless USB gamepad from Saitek.

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Ursula Seymour

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