WirelessUSB gets cheaper - at a cost

A technology aimed at replacing cables for mice, keyboards and other peripherals is getting an upgrade, but data speeds could be its weakest link

Cypress Semiconductor is sampling a second-generation, lower-cost chipset based on its WirelessUSB cable-replacement technology, which the company says could beat Bluetooth, ZigBee and wireless LAN technologies for many applications.

The WirelessUSB LS system-on-a-chip, announced on Monday, is Cypress' follow-up to the WirelessUSB EX chip released last November. It carries a price tag of less than $2 (£1.28), undercutting rivals, which Cypress says will be crucial to the technology's adoption. Unlike Bluetooth, WirelessUSB uses the USB drivers on any PC, meaning that it doesn't need to be set up. Cypress said the chip will move to under $1 in the next two years.

"We’ve eliminated the complexity and have reached a compelling price point that positions WirelessUSB to become the de facto standard for point-to-point and multipoint-to-point wireless systems," said Norm Taffe, Cypress' managing director of wireless products, in a statement.

WirelessUSB operates in the unregulated 2.4GHz band, offering lower latency  than 27MHz, 433MHz and 900MHz devices, while being simpler and less expensive to implement than Bluetooth, ZigBee or 802.11-based technologies, Taffe said.

WirelessUSB LS, like its predecessor, can connect at distances up to 10 metres. Its latency, at less than 4 milliseconds, is lower than that of the EX chip.

However, the chip's low transmission speed means it is suitable mainly for peripherals such as keyboards, mice, game controllers and remote controls. WirelessUSB LS transmits at 62.5 Kbps, compared to 217.6Kbps for the EX chip, 250Kbps for ZigBee, 1Mbps for Bluetooth and 11Mbps for 802.11b (also known as Wi-Fi).

Taffe said that keyboard maker NMB and game peripheral manufacturer Saitek have already adopted WirelessUSB.

Bluetooth, ZigBee, WirelessUSB and Wi-Fi use the same 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 three 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 did not initially support Bluetooth in Windows XP, but has now retroactively added support. Apple  incorporated support for Bluetooth on the desktop last year with Mac OS X 10.2, as well as software for wirelessly synchronising mobile devices, but the company typically does not include chips for enabling Bluetooth connections in its PCs. Instead, consumers have to buy an add-on card.

The difficulty in setting up Bluetooth has been recognised as a problem by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group, which is aiming to get set-up times down to under five minutes.