A/V equipment maker Gefen says they'll ship several ultrawideband cable replacements in 2007 (release not yet on site): The company will ship the Wireless USB Extender, a four-port USB hub that connects via UWB to a USB dongle on a computer, for $249 in January. Of course, last January, they said, "Cable-free USB 2.0 extension is a reality for...Gefen...The unit...marks the initial release of UWB-enabled product for the US market."
Ha, ha! Just kidding! We meant, January 2007! Last year's product, which they claimed to "showcase" at CES wasn't really shown. At Macworld Expo, a few days later, I asked Mr. Gefen himself for a demo, but they didn't even have a plastic brick as a prototype. Belkin had a plastic brick at their booth, but it had no innards. Both Belkin and Gefen had planned to be the early partners of Freescale, which now is apparently out of the UWB business, as far as the tea leaves suggest. (They still have this very slight page describing that part of their operations.)
UWB chipmaker Wisair, a member of the WiMedia Alliance, has developed the reference design from which Belkin and Gefen have derived their products. The device supports connections at up to 30 feet; Gefen promises 30 feet and a wall for coverage. It does require an AC power source, and all the associated USB devices plug into it. So it's hardly free of cables, but it's rid itself of a host-to-USB cable. With integrated UWB, every peripheral will have Certified Wireless USB built in, allowing each to be separately powered and located, rather than spoked off a hub.
Belkin has been stating for several weeks that their Cable-Free USB Hub would be available Any Time Now. Most recently, they posted a press release on Dec. 4 stating that mid-December was the target date. As of today, the product isn't even listed on their site--not to mention available for purchase. They had the temerity to write this in that press release: "As the first UWB product to hit the U.S. market..." A little premature, folks. (Their list price is $200; can Gefen sustain $250 on the basis of their brand?)
Is this vaporware? Not quite. They're just all a bit too eager to push the releases out before the product has shipped. At CES, I believe several dozen USB products will be demonstrated, although almost none will be shipping. Perhaps none demonstrated will be shipping. But within a quarter or so, there should be a number of items actually available for purchase, probably at too high a price point except for certain markets and some early adopters. Compare $200 or $250 for this early UWB-with-UWB hub with $3.19 for a 15-foot USB cable.
Gefen, by the way, has also said that they will have two somewhat more interesting UWB items later in 2007--wireless component audio and wireless HDMI extenders. HDMI sounds particularly useful, as it would be lovely to stop snaking cables behind television sets. It could also be extremely nice in situations where you'd like the TV set mounted separately from the rest of a home-entertainment system.
Update: Gizmodo has some more pricing details. The component audio extender apparently handles 1080i, which I don't get, given that 1080i is a video standard. It will cost $1,500 and reach 300 feet, line of sight, which is far beyond UWB standards. In fact, there is some concern that attempts to push the limits of UWB will run afoul of the principal of non-interference based on FCC rules. The wireless HDMI extender will use Tzero technology, spit 400 Mbps over 30 feet, and carry up to 1080i resolution for $500. There's also a VGA extender, Gizmodo reports.