It's only every once in a while that a new technology comes along and revolutionises the way we use computers or makes our computing lives a whole lot better.
Wireless networking (WiFi) was one such technology. Universal Serial Bus (USB) was another. And, in the next few months, the two are set to start coming together in the near self-explanatory form of Wireless USB – a technology that promises to give wireless access to self-powered USB devices, including printers, scanners, hard drives, optical-disc burners and MP3 players.
Clearly, if the technology works, users of laptop PCs will find it a far more convenient way of accessing USB peripherals than plugging them in one at a time – and having to unplug them before they start moving off again - and will be able to access them even from different rooms in the building.
Instead of being plugged into the PC, the peripherals stay connected to a wireless hub that fools a wireless laptop into thinking that it is connected directly to the devices.
But laptop users aren't the only people who'll benefit from Wireless USB. The technology will even be appearing in cars and should underpin fast, around-the-home, distribution of music, stills and movies – up to and including hi-def.
In addition – but depending on how the technology is implemented – Wireless USB could give more complete access in multi-PC households to peripherals such as combi printers.
Most USB-connected combined printer-scanner-copier-fax models offer shared access only to basic printer functions and nothing more. Only the user of the PC to which the device is connected can scan or copy or fax through the printer but this could change with Wireless USB.
In a pre-CES announcement, Belkin said it would be the first company to bring Wireless USB products to market. Come early spring, Belkin will be introducing - in the USA, of course - the F5U301 kit. This pairs a wireless USB hub with a matching USB wireless dongle.
Belkin says about its new kit, "The CableFree USB Hub gives desktop computer users the freedom to place their USB devices anywhere in the room without running long cables. Laptop users gain the freedom to roam wirelessly with their laptop around the room while still maintaining access to their stationary USB devices.
"Belkin’s CableFree USB product will be compatible with the more than 700 million USB devices estimated to be in the market today. Indeed, according to market research firm In-Stat, the number of USB devices is forecast to increase to 2.1 billion in 2009."
The company also gives credit to the Motorola spin-off Freescale Semiconductor, saying that, "The CableFree USB Hub’s wireless functionality is enabled by Freescale Semiconductor’s Ultra-Wideband technology".
The kit is initially due to sell for around $130. That's not a huge amount to pay for the convenience it promises. What isn't yet known, though, is the price for individual dongles that would allow extra PCs to connect. UK prices for the kit remain a mystery, too, right now.
Whatever these turn out to be, production costs and prices are sure to fall – hopefully speedily - as other firms join the Wireless USB fray and competition and volume sales provide end-users with the benefits of higher production levels.
We'll be keep a very close eye on developments with Wireless USB and hope to bring you hands-on reports as soon as practical. In the interim, you can check out the web sites of two non-profit organisations closely involved with Wireless USB's development - the USB Implementers Forum and the WiMedia Alliance - and join us for an exchange of thoughts over in the HEXUS.community.