Selling Short

WHEN YOU CONSIDER that Wi-Fi mesh, WiMAX and 3G are about growing range and footprint, wireless technologies motto seems to be bigger is better. But, there is similar movement at the opposite end of the spectrum as short-range standards continue to percolate in the lab. Rather than taking on great distances, these technologies are trying to solve the proximity problem of efficiently linking users and their electronics for a variety of applications. As the most viable of these WiBree, wireless USB, ZigBee, near-field communications (NFC) and Wireless HD make their way to market in the next year, wireless dealers who know the options and the applications can begin to build on their productivity-based wireless sales.

Bluetooth is the first real success story in the short-range world. Now, newer technologies are complementary to the embedded Bluetooth base, because they can handle so much more data.

WiBree for instance, introduced last fall by the Nokia Research Center, is a low-power standard that supports speeds of 1mbps at up to 10 meters, for connecting handhelds and PCs to small, button-cell battery-powered devices like watches, wireless keyboards, toys and sports sensors in a cost-effective way. Compatible with Bluetooth (and therefore able to hook devices into the cellular network via handset for long-range transport), the first commercial version of the interoperability specification will be available this quarter. The idea is to bring wireless connectivity even deeper into peoples lives, spurring a new marketplace for affordable yet cool business and consumer accessories 007s two-way video watch, anyone?

NFC is another standard with promise. It allows for a range of just six-to-eight inches, but its goals are big. Backers like Nokia, AT&T Inc. and Citibank envision a world where users simply touch or wave their phones in front of a reader, creating a secure peerto- peer network to download information from smart posters or billboards, pay for hard goods, or receive daily reports and bulletins in an enterprise setting. A variant of NFC is being embedded in credit cards, too. Trials are ongoing, such as one in New York City this spring allowing people with certain Nokia phones to pay for subway tickets wirelessly and use their handsets as debit cards at MasterCard contactless payment terminals. Testing kits for product interop are expected by the end of the year. ABI Research predicts by 2011, nearly 500 million cellular handsets will incorporate NFC capabilities, which will drive new applications, and new opportunities for wireless dealers.

Moving from seamless mobility to utility applications, Wireless USB aims to eliminate that mess of wires found in anyones office by acting as an extension to the more than 2 billion legacy wired USB connections in the world today. By using the ultra-wideband (UWB) radio platform as developed by the WiMedia Alliance, wireless USB simply will unwire the cable connections between computers and peripherals, with enhanced support for streaming media; its performance is targeted at 480mbps at three meters, and 110mbps at 10 meters. Wireless USB devices have the benefit of integrating with the interoperable USB installed base, making for seamless wireless upgrades to existing, dust-collecting wired peripherals. Commercial products are expected this year.

ZigBee technology meanwhile takes on the needs of remote monitoring and control functions, and will be embedded in a wide range of products and applications across consumer, commercial, industrial and government markets. Optimized to run on inexpensive, primary batteries for years, standards-based applications would include lighting controls, automatic meter reading, wireless smoke and CO detectors, HVAC and heating control, medical sensing and monitoring and so on. The ZigBee Alliance says it supports 250kbps at 2.4GHz, 40kbps at 915MHz, and 20kbps at 868MHz, and transmission distances range from 10 to 100 meters. Certified products are available now.

Wireless HD meanwhile aims to revolutionize audio/visual communications, in the home and the enterprise, which will give dealers a whole new set of products to sell. LG Electronics Inc., Panasonic, Samsung, Sony Corp. and other CE bigwigs recently have joined together to create a wireless digital network interface specification for consumer electronics products to connect with display screens. So, users will be able to stream content from a 3G router, PC, video conference node or other device to a high-def screen, without wires or configuration simply turn on the devices and go. When Wireless HD makes it to market no word on the timeline yet it will enable 2gbps to 5gbps at 10 meters, with theoretical data rates as high as 20gbps.


ABI Research
AT&T Inc.
LG Electronics Inc.
Sony Corp.
WiMedia Alliance
Wireless HD
ZigBee Alliance

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