'WirelessUSB' could beat Bluetooth on the PC

A new technology from Cypress Semiconductor aims to be everything that Bluetooth is not in the world of PC peripherals

Cypress Semiconductor is introducing a new technology that it says could leapfrog Bluetooth and other standards to create a standard for wirelessly linking peripherals such as mice and keyboards to a PC.

The company's new WirelessUSB chip operates in the unregulated 2.4GHz band, and claims to offer lower latency than better-established 27MHz, 433MHz and 900MHz devices, while being simpler and less expensive to implement than Bluetooth, Cypress said. The CY694X chip can connect as many as seven devices up to 10 metres with a latency of less than 20 milliseconds (ms) -- this latency can drop to just 8ms when four devices are connected.

WirelessUSB's low latency compared with most wireless peripherals is intended to appeal to makers of gaming peripherals, which require latency lower than 30ms, according to Cypress.

The chip is sampling now, Cypress announced on Monday, and will be out in production volumes in the first quarter of next year.

It is priced at $3.92 (about £2.50) in high volumes, and unlike Bluetooth will not require new drivers for operating systems that already support USB.

"Current wireless (human interface device) technology has serious limitations, while Bluetooth is overkill for these applications. Cypress's WirelessUSB products satisfy the three critical requirements for this market: power, price and latency," said Cathal Phelan, vice president of Cypress' Personal Communications Division, in a statement.

Like Bluetooth, WirelessUSB uses a frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology that allows it to operate in the same area with devices using the same frequency range without interference. Cypress said that batteries should last up to six months in typical keyboard applications. The technology allows transmissions to be encrypted. It can achieve a maximum data rate of 217.6Kbps.

Bluetooth, HomeRF and Wi-Fi -- the trade name for IEEE 802.11b -- also use the 2.4GHz band, which most governments around the world have reserved for unregulated use.

Bluetooth is a much more versatile technology, allowing the creation of "personal area networks" (PANs) connecting mobile phones, PCs, handheld computers, headsets and other devices. It was introduced more than two years ago by the mobile phone industry, where it has already established a significant presence, but is only now becoming a force to be reckoned with in the PC world.

Microsoft has not yet released Windows drivers supporting Bluetooth, although they are due shortly. Apple kick-started mainstream use of Bluetooth on the desktop earlier this year with the inclusion of Bluetooth drivers for Mac OS X 10.2, as well as software for wirelessly synchronising mobile devices. Apple and other PC makers have been hawking Bluetooth as the wireless equivalent of USB.

In the absence of widespread availability of built-in support for Bluetooth on desktop PCs, however, some industry observers have said that Bluetooth is too difficult for users to set up.

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