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Competing Wireless Standards Battle It Out

Wireless USB and CableFree USB vie for dominance in personal area networks.

One of the year's hottest mobile technologies might never leave your desk. Based on a spec from the Intel-led WiMedia Alliance, Wireless USB is intended to replace the morass of cables linking PCs to cell phones, PDAs, and MP3 players. Think of it as Bluetooth, but better: It's based on new Ultra Wideband radio technology, which is faster than Bluetooth and uses less power. At top speed, it beams a CD's worth of data in about 10 seconds.

But Ultra Wideband's journey from the lab to the electronics store hasn't been easy. A rival group, the UWB Forum, has a seemingly identical technology called CableFree USB. The first products based on Wireless USB and CableFree USB--radio-based dongles that attach to USB ports and replace USB extension cables--will ship this summer. Laptops, digital cameras, and printers with the radio technology will come later, in time for the holidays.

But while radio dongles based on the competing specifications look the same and do the same thing, they can't talk to each other. Worse, they jam each other's transmissions so they can't even share the same air space.

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