Footlose & Cable-Free

At the Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio director of enterprise services Phil Skinner has a technology group looking into applications for so-called "wireless USB." Beyond replacing messy desktop cables, the group is looking at automatic synchronization between a slew of different devices.

"Not just PDAs," notes Skinner, "but also a lot of medical devices."

The OSU team is hardly typical. While wireless USB has strong vendor support, few enterprise users have actually dabbled with the technology yet.

"It's pretty darn new," adds Skinner. "I doubt there's many [users] out there."

The radio technology underpinning wireless USB efforts, known as ultra wideband (UWB), should allow transmission of data at 480 Mbit/s at a range of several meters.

As with most new wireless technologies, there is already disagreement over the standards to be used. Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and others are backing the WiMedia Alliance , while Belkin Corp. and Freescale Semiconductor Inc. are pushing the "CableFree USB" initiative.

Regardless of the outcome of that contest, it's not entirely clear how the technology will benefit enterprises. Despite the sheer horsepower of UWB radios, Skinner says that the same speed and range concerns apply as they would to any other wireless technology.

"You still need to be in close proximity," he explains. "It's still more feet than meters. And speed is always an issue depending on how much data you're sending."

Still, Skinner believes the technology may prove to have applications beyond the son-of-Bluetooth, cable-replacement type of deployments.

"We think it has its place," he says. "We're just trying to figure out where exactly that is."

Certainly the technology represents a step beyond current offerings in the cable replacement field.

"Look around and ask yourself how many people use USB and the number of USB devices they connect, then consider the added convenience of removing all those USB cables, and I think you have a much more compelling case for wireless USB than using Bluetooth as a proxy would indicate." says Charles Golvin, analyst at Forrester Research Inc. .

For the time being, many users are currently using Bluetooth for applications that wireless USB may eventually handle.

"We're primarily using Bluetooth for synchronization purposes, on the sales guys' laptops," says Manny Singh, director of IT at Bedford Park, Ill.-based disposable dinnerware company Prairie Packaging. "But also low-end tracking."

The company is equipping staff with a Bluetooth fob that logs when they enter or leave a building, Singh explains.

Like many IT managers, Singh is not yet au fait with the emerging wireless USB technology. He plans to educate himself, though: "I'm going to check it out this week."

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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