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What Happened To Wireless USB?

by Sean P. Aune | January 12, 2010January 12, 2010 11:51 am PDT

Are you unsure what Wireless USB is?  Don’t worry, you aren’t alone.  While the technology still exists, and some companies are still working at it, it is like the forgotten child of the USB technology family.

The Universal Serial Bus (USB) has truly lived up to its name to become the universal way for computers and peripherals to connect to one another.  First introduced in 1996, USB 1.0 suffered some issues that it was not quite the true “plug-and-play” connectivity we enjoy today. However, once USB 2.0 came along, it became the dream many computer users had hoped for all along.  As the popularity of the technology grew, and with billions of USB connections around the world now, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the body that regulates USB standards, began to ponder bringing the same technology into a wireless age.

While USB was always touted as being able to run up to 127 connections off of a controller, people were finding their lives cluttered with cables.  With external hard drives, cell phones, MP3 players, printers and more connecting via USB, we were finding out computer desks turning into proverbial spaghetti of USB cables.  The USB-IF decided to try its hand at Wireless USB which promised us wireless connectivity with all of our devices.

usbThe standard was finalized in May 2005 and … nothing really happened.

The first hurdle the technology faced was that wired USB has just become too cheap.  The Wirless USB controllers were running nearly three times the cost of the traditional wired version.  Due to this, there was very little motivation on the part of computer makers to include this technology when the wired version was cheaper and it just worked so well already.

On the consumer side of things, the few devices that were coming out were just not working that well.  The further from a device you were, the slower it went, and there was also some issues with your devices having to be within line of sight of one another.  While it was a nice dream to be wireless, USB 2.0 was just so dependable, it was difficult to ween users off of all of their cables.

While the technology still exists, it is doubtful it will ever become more than a footnote now thanks to USB 3.0.  While Wireless USB promises up to 480Mbps at 3 meters and 110Mbps at 10 meters, the new version of the traditional USB is promising transfer speeds in Gigabits.  It’s going to be difficult to convince computer users to give up such fast speeds for the option of walking a few feet further away from their printers.

It is still a nice dream, and the technology is still being worked on, but until such time as the line of sight and price issues are solved, you’ll still see probably a lot of head scratching any time you mention its name at a dinner party.


Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...

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