Although last-mile wireless technologies like WiMax have garnered plenty of media love and consumer interest, less attention has been focused on their low-power siblings. Interesting things are afoot in the world of wireless personal area networks (WPAN), many of them spearheaded by the WiMedia Alliance, a consortium of companies that wants to bring short-range, ultra wideband (UWB) radios into everyone’s home.
At the group’s yearly conference, going on now, vendors are attempting to demonstrate that the technology works as promised. The goal of the WiMedia Alliance is to produce a low-power radio that uses multiband orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing to beam 480Mbps between devices in the same room. The goal is to do for small consumer electronics what WiFi did for laptops. If you can’t think of any places where this sort of technology would be useful, the Alliance has some ideas for you to think about.
"Anticipated early applications include the exchange of media content over high-data consumer electronics devices including MP3 players, personal media players (PMPs), set-top-boxes, digital cameras, hard-drives, printers/scanners, home-theater equipment, mobile phones, personal computers and video gaming platforms, just to name a few."
Couldn’t Bluetooth be used for all of these applications? Yes, but Bluetooth currently suffers from bandwidth limitations that make it impossible, say, to stream reliable HD video or back up your hard drive to an external unit. To remedy that problem, the Bluetooth group has actually adopted WiMedia radio technology for use in “Bluetooth 2.0.”
The Alliance also wants to see its radio design replace standard USB wired connections, and the USB Implementers Forum has announced its own plan to adopt the technology as the basis for “Certified Wireless USB”.
Plenty of situations come to mind in which this would be useful technology (assuming that it’s glitch-free), but wires won’t disappear anytime soon. Going wireless suddenly subjects your devices to the vagaries of battery life and electromagnetic interference; the last thing I want to do is jiggle my keyboard to get better reception, then worry about whether it’s running out of power. Still, for devices like MP3 players and digital cameras, personal area networking could be a huge boon. Though the technology would seem to have some overlap with WiFi (the same thing was once said of Bluetooth, though the two now coexist), it’s attempting to carve out its own niche in the wireless landscape, one that is fast, low-powered, and short-ranged.