Staccato: Wireless USB to be big in 2009

As the chipmaker unveils its Ripcord 2 65nm CMOS ultrawideband system on a chip, its CEO claims PC makers will start offering wireless USB more widely next year

Computer manufacturers will start offering wireless USB as a standard option for European customers next year, a chipmaker has claimed.

Staccato Communications manufactures chips for technologies based on ultrawideband (UWB) connectivity, including wireless USB (WUSB). The first WUSB-enabled products were certified in 2007 — the year in which UWB was legalised in Europe — but they failed to make it to Europe with WUSB included. Currently, only a dozen or so PC models are available anywhere in the world with WUSB as a configuration option.

However, according to Staccato chief executive Marty Colombatto, 2009 will be the year when WUSB starts finding its way into a much wider variety of machines. Colombatto said this to ahead of Staccato's Tuesday announcement of its Ripcord 2 UWB system-on-a-chip (SoC).

"In 2009, you will certainly see PC manufacturers start offering [WUSB] as a standard feature in some portion of the product line," said Colombatto. "That's a necessary foundation for the widespread deployment of WUSB."

Wireless USB is, as its name suggests, the intended successor to wired USB. A high-bandwidth, short-range technology, its big selling point is elimination of cables in the home and office. The biggest potential downside for the technology is the fact that it cannot be used to power peripherals, as can be done with traditional USB.

The reason for WUSB's failure to take off thus far, according to Colombatto, has been the failure of WUSB hardware to reach a suitable price point. "They're waiting for the right price profile," he said. "When I was at Broadcom, I ran the networking business there, and we made the transition from fast Ethernet to gigabit Ethernet. There wasn't any [particular] application driving that; it was the right price point."

Colombatto claimed Ripcord 2 will be the first chipset to reach "the right" price point. A 65nm (nanometre) CMOS SoC, Ripcord 2 should be in production in the first quarter of 2009, he said.

"I don't know if anyone would have predicted [the success of Bluetooth]," Colombatto noted, by way of an analogy. "It is not a killer app, but one of convenience. It certainly comes at a higher price, but consumers are willing to pay a bit extra to eliminate a cable." He added that laptop manufacturers are keen to introduce new features and "give customers a reason to adopt the new and throw out the old".

Ripcord 2's predecessor, Ripcord 1, never made it into any products. According to Staccato, this was because the 110nm CMOS chip was too big and power-hungry — it had a power consumption of 500mW, around twice that of its successor — and because Ripcord 2 was developed relatively quickly. "We Osborned it", said Colombatto, referring to the industry myth of Osborne Computer Corporation's collapse in 1983 due to premature announcement of a new product.

The PC manufacturer Lenovo told on Wednesday that it was planning to bring out some UWB-enabled laptops in Europe in the first quarter of next year. Other manufacturers contacted have, thus far, refused to comment on their UWB- or WUSB-related plans.