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Wi-Fi Alliance readies peer-to-peer wireless tech

The days of complementing Bluetooth are over

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Peer-to-peer, personal area Wi-Fi, anyone? That's what the Wi-Fi Alliance will soon be touting, pitching a direct-connection extension of the WLAN technology as an alternative not only to Bluetooth but also Wireless USB.

The WFA said yesterday that it was "nearing completion" of the specification, though it doesn't expect to be able to certify devices' compatibility with the new spec and interoperability with each other until the middle of 2010.

Essentially, Wi-Fi Direct will allow devices to talk to each other one-to-one on an ad hoc basis rather than over a network connection. It will also support one-to-many connections.

Links can be protected using WPA 2 security, the Alliance said.

The underpinning transport will presumably be 802.11n - using a single antenna, we'd say, to help keep the power requirement as low as possible - with the Wi-Fi Direct specification centring on how devices can discover nearby compatible gadgets and negotiate connections with them while hiding the complexity from users.

The WFA anticipates gadgets like cameras, phones, games consoles, TVs, music players and the like will use Wi-Fi Direct in place of Bluetooth, so the UI will be need to be simple and straightforward. It will also have to work with UI-less devices like mice and keyboards - both targets for Wi-Fi Direct.

It's not yet clear whether such devices will need just one Wi-Fi adaptor for networking - which many of them already possess - and for Direct links, or they will need a second radio for the peer-to-peer tech.

A single radio will appeal to vendors, who are always keen to keep the number of components in their products down, for cost reasons. For punters, the pitch is data transfer speed, which the WFA claimed would match what you get from WLANs today. Wi-Fi is already well ahead of the peak 3Mb/s you get with Bluetooth Extended Data Rate.

Ironically, Bluetooth 3.0 has a "high speed" component which sits on top of Wi-Fi. It is also supposed to have an ultrawideband component, but its future is murky following the March 2009 decision of the WiMedia Alliance, to body behind the foundation UWB technology, to disband. The WMA left its work in progress with the Bluetooth SIG and the Wireless USB Promotor Group. The latter was using WiMedia's tech is its own radio layer.

Unlike Bluetooth 3.0, Wireless USB is available to use in products right now, and the USB Implementers Forum website currently lists 119 of them. But the technology is hardly ubiquitous. Not so Wi-Fi, which is commonplace, and so perhaps stands a better chance of broad adoption. Wi-Fi is well known as a wireless technology - mention USB and everyone thinks of cables.

But the sheer volume of legacy devices means that Bluetooth won't be going away any time soon, no matter how superior the WFA's alternative turn out to be. ®

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