Wireless technology is everywhere. Whether it’s the buzz about something new or a product currently available, I cannot go through a day without reading or bumping into something related to wireless technology. Seven built-in wireless technologies make the world go round. When I say “built-in” I’m talking about products that have wireless technology inside the device. Most familiar to most people are Wireless USB, Bluetooth, and RFID. However, there are four more technologies you should at least know about. So here are all seven technologies: WUSB, Bluetooth, RFID, WiMedia, UWB, NFC, and ZigBee.
WiMedia – WiMedia refers to the Ultra Wide Band radio platform which enables high data transfer rates. The goal of WiMedia is to standardize the protocols or code used in wireless devices. For example, WiMedia standards are used in Ultra Wide Band (UWB), Bluetooth, and WUSB technology products. The result for a consumer is that WiMedia guarantees wireless devices work together without an end-user knowing about set-up procedures or configuration options. I guess you could say plug-n-play, but we are talking about wireless.
UWB or Ultra Wideband – UWB is wireless technology operating in a radio frequency greater than 500MHz. What this means is that UWB is excellent for sending a lot of data wirelessly.
The transfer of data on this radio frequency works as a pulse. Due to the extremely low emission levels allowed by the FCC, UWB systems tend to be short-range and indoors. With the short duration of these pulses it’s easier to transfer high amounts of data, but can also be engineered to transfer less data over a longer distance. It’s the give-n-take of UWB.
An example of high data transfer rates using the UWB technology would be wireless computer monitors or digital camcorders playing video without the need of a host computer or wired connection to the TV.
WUSB or Wireless USB – Wireless USB is the combination of high-speed data transfer rates with the ease-of-use of USB connectivity. WUSB takes USB one step further and removes the cable from the connection.
WUSB uses the Ultra Wide Band radio frequency technology and standard. What WUSB has done to the UWB is to adopt the necessary protocols to have it work with USB connectors (or ports). As with Bluetooth, wireless USB is ideal for short-range networks – usually called personal networks.
WUSB has become very strong in personal networks around the office, for example networking your PC together with the mouse, keyboard, printer, and the camera is usually done via WUSB. Bluetooth has become very popular for personal networks about mobile devices, such as cell phones, headsets, and PDAs.
What WUSB really brings to the table is the wide range of products using the connection standard of USB to a world without wires.
About Wireless USB
Bluetooth – Bluetooth is a short-range radio communications method ideal for small networks – usually called personal networks. Bluetooth is unique because it has three different classes to define how far it will communicate; 1 meter, 10 meters, and 100 meters.
An example of a personal network would be a Bluetooth headset and it’s base unit or mobile phone. Another example would be a wireless network between your PC, keyboard, mouse, and printer.
Bluetooth works at the same frequency as many cordless telephones and microwaves – the 2.4GHz range – but since the power output is very small there are no real health concerns with Bluetooth technology.
RFID or Radio Frequency Identification – RFID is an automatic identification method used to assign an ID to an item. The most common is an RFID tag placed on an object. The tag is really a silicon chip that houses an internal antenna. When an external electrical current hits the RFID tag response is generated which tells the ID of the object.
There are two types of tags. 1) Passive – a tag which does not have internal power, but rather uses the electric pulse sent to it to wake-up and sends a response. 2) Active – a tag that uses internal power to provide an ID response.
Two examples you can identify with would be a passive RFID tag used in a shopping mall or clothing store. These are tags attached to clothing (or item) which sound a store alarm when not removed.
An example of the active RFID tag would be the toll-road transponders. Here you have a battery-powered RFID unit that communicates with the toll-road service to auto charge your account for use of the road.
NFC or Near Field Communication – NFC is a wireless technology aimed at being used in mobile phones. The premise of this technology is based on magnetic field induction. In other words, a magnetic field is used to activate a device when nearby. The furthest distance NFC works are 20 centimeters – so I’m talking real close!
An interesting example would be walking past a movie poster and waving your cell phone in front of it to download the trailer. A real-world example is using your mobile phone to make a payment and rather than swipe a credit card you would simply touch the phone to a terminal and the transaction would be executed. This technology is also being implemented into credit cards.
ZigBee – Is a wireless protocol used in low-powered devices that don’t transfer a lot of data, need long battery life, and communicate on a secure network. ZigBee technology is based on RF or radiofrequency applications.
A practical example of ZigBee technology is a home network system controlling items such as lights, security systems, fire alarms, heating, and air conditioning. This example demonstrates each “item” needing to communicate with a central station and have low data transfer needs (light on, light off) along with long battery life.
In the picture, you can see the red lines as routing links where the wireless signal “touches” each device along with a grey link which leads to an endpoint, or control point.
If you notice, I have not included WiFi and the reason is simple. WiFi is not a technology embedded into a product. Also, WiFi needs configuration and is not plug-n-play as the technologies mentioned above. The strength in WiFi is the ability to handle multiple devices over a longer distance while maintaining high transfer rates.
Keep in mind, this article is a high-level overview of built-in wireless technologies and there is an infinite amount of information available for each technology.
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