Sceptics snipe at Cypress WirelessUSB concept

by Guy Kewney | posted on 29 November 2002

A month on after Cypress Semiconductor announced that it was sampling chips of its new technology for wireless keyboards and mice - WirelessUSB - the critics are starting to emerge expressing doubts. It's too expensive, and it conflicts with Bluetooth, they say

Guy Kewney

The original announcement of Cypress's WirelessUSB said that it would "cut the cord" from mice, keyboards, and other peripherals, to a personal computer - and it garnered some initial enthusiasm from commentators.

The technology shares nothing with Bluetooth except the waveband - the 2.4GHz spectrum - and is far simpler. Cypress suggested that WirelessUSB would also use far less power than Bluetooth, be easier to set up, and would be quicker - not in terms of bit-rate, but in terms of delay - latency. And, most importantly, it would be cheaper than Bluetooth.

Since then, Microsoft has announced its Bluetooth Desktop - a mouse and keyboard combination which uses Bluetooth to link wirelessly to the PC, and perhaps as a result, the industry has drawn back from Cypress's innovation.

Bluetooth expert Nick Hunn of TDK Grey Cell had originally been quite keen on the idea of a simpler wireless technology for keyboards. "My personal view has always been that Bluetooth was overkill for keyboard and mouse, but it's been driven there by Microsoft," he told NewsWireless Net. "The way that happened seems to be based on their belief that Bluetooth was too slow for a wireless LAN, so what's left around the PC to use it on ... ah yes.. Mice and keyboards!"

However he was not alone in feeling that Cypress faced an uphill struggle with the technology unless it could persuade Microsoft to switch. And with Microsoft now committed to the Bluetooth solution, several players in the market said that the only hope for Cypress was to cut the price.

That could be hard. Bluetooth technology is complex, and probably won't ever come down to the conceptual $5 per chip mark which it is aiming at; and at that level, keyboard makers say, it's really a bit pricey for simple devices like mice.

When Cypress first touted the WirelessUSB technology to insiders, it was predicting that it would heavily undercut Bluetooth, with an ultimate $1 per chip incremental cost to the builder. However, its announcement this month talked about a $4 end-user price - which gives it virtually no advantage over Bluetooth - and thus, no reason for the industry to switch.

On top of this, since it uses the same spectrum - a crowded one - as Bluetooth and WiFi and TV digital senders and so on - it's conceivable that there will be interference between standards. Cypress says not: "The CY694X supports seven nodes per host and multiple separate links in the same space," according to the press announcement. It uses a frequency-hopping spread-spectrum technology, "which makes it possible to use multiple WirelessUSB devices in crowded offices and classrooms without fear of interference between devices." Advanced power management enables batteries to last up to six months in typical keyboard applications, Cypress adds.

"If it's around $4, I'm afraid it's a non-starter," retorted one industry insider. "And it would be better in another part of the spectrum, even with frequency-hopping."