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Ready to bin your USB cables yet? Wireless USB hops on WiGig bandwagon

Kicks USB up to 60GHz, calls self 'media agnostic'

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Having failed to carve itself a niche with ultrawide band radio, the USB Implementers Forum has jumped aboard the WiGig bandwagon and will slide up the dial into 60GHz.

60GHz is where WiGig lives, an internationally unlicensed band where there's plenty of space but propagation is poor. WiGig is proposed as the next generation of Wi-Fi, offering vastly improved speeds, so the USB Implementers Forum will be porting USB 2 and 3 to run right on top of it.

USBs will now be able to use any kind of wireless system, including WiGig, Wi-Fi and ultrawideband.

Until now, the best hope of wireless USB was ultrawide band (UWB) radio – also used in "see-through-the-wall" radar-imaging techniques. UWB uses a low-powered signal across a massive range of frequencies – reminiscent of the interference generated by an electric drill or similar. The bands are full of other stuff, but the UWB signal isn't powerful enough to interfere. It is, however, powerful enough to carry a 480Mb/sec connection.

Ofcom was rushed into permitting UWB kit after the US gave it FCC approval in 2009, amidst fears that Europe would be swamped with kit illegally imported from the United States, but the rush to get rid of USB cables never happened.

The fact is that USB cables work quite well, while UWB kit turned out to be extremely short range and rather unreliable, so only a handful of products were ever launched. These days UWB is still used for TV transmission, but once WiGig gets going that will probably disappear too.

Not that WiGig is perfect – unlike UWB it won't go through walls and relies on reflected signals when someone walks between transmitter and receiver – but layering USB on top of the WiGig Serial Extension makes sense. The new USB standard is calling itself "Media Agnostic" to avoid becoming too coupled to a specific radio standard.

USB is a hugely successful standard. USB keys finally killed off the floppy drive and the USB socket is becoming a de facto power supply too. Its first foray into wireless can justifiably be called a failure, but that's no reason not to be trying again. ®

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