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Slow, short range, incompatible ... but it's pure

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So you want wireless networking, but you don’t want to hand over patent fees and licence money to the nasty megacorporations?

Qi Hardware, the company responsible for the Ben Nanonote, has created a USB dongle offering wireless networking on open-sourced hardware conforming to the 6LoWPAN standard from as little as £25 assuming you can get driver software and don't mind being unable to talk to anyone else.

6LoWPAN isn't as fast as Wi-Fi, or as ubiquitous as Bluetooth, but it is free from royalty payments. The hardware being sold by Tux Brain is open sourced in that all the schematics and design specifications are freely available - something the company behind the design claims would be impossible with Wi-Fi or similar.

To drive that hardware Qi will provide a 6LoWPAN driver for the Nanonote or Linux box, but has also managed to connect it to a Linux Zigbee stack. Zigbee is free for non-commercial use, but that makes it incompatible with the GPL so the hardware isn't named as being Zigbee compatible.

Neither is it guaranteed to be free from patent infringements - the wireless business is so awash with patents that it's hard to imagine something like this doesn't infringe on a few of them - but by using open standards Qi reckons it's playing as safe as one can.

That gives you connection speeds around 250Kb/sec and a range of up to 10m, though 2Mb/sec is apparently possible over very short ranges.

Qi has created cheap hardware, using an off-the-shelf AVR microcontroller, which can be modified and easily integrated into bigger projects. But the price of that is compatibility with the rest of the world - unless (or until) the rest of the world can be convinced to adopt the 6LoWPAN standard. ®

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