Computex tech demo: Wi-Fi instead of Bluetooth?

Wi-Fi for PANs

I'm a big fan of wireless mice, and at home — where my only PCs are notebooks — I've been using wireless optical notebook mice for years. All use a dongle, and while the dongles have been getting smaller, they're prone to breakage and sometimes I just lose the darn things.

I thought for a while that maybe I'd be able to get rid of the dongle completely by using a Bluetooth mouse. No luck. I tried two (one from IOGear and one from HP); basically, while I had no problem setting them up, they were never able to awake from sleep mode, which they entered whenever I took a break of more than a couple of minutes. I would have to reinstall them, which got so annoying that I quickly reverted to the old (but reliable) dongle-based products. (I have one more Bluetooth mouse from Microsoft that I still haven't tried.)

Last week, however, a company called Ozmo Devices came in to talk about technology that promises to let you use Wi-Fi the way you now use Bluetooth for so-called personal area networks or PANs — to wirelessly connect peripherals that right now are typically hooked up via USB. Ozmo will be showing the technology at Computex this week (I should mention that I'm not in Taipei for the show, although we'll have extensive coverage from my colleague Danny Allen and several IDG News correspondents who will be there).

Historically, Wi-Fi has been a poor choice for PANs because it gobbles up power — and devices such as wireless mice or speakers really don't need Wi-Fi's range and bandwidth anyway. But Ozmo says its technology basically throttles back the way Wi-Fi operates to dramatically reduce power consumption — so much that, according to Ozmo, a battery-powered peripheral using Ozmo's Wi-Fi chip would actually run longer than the same device using Bluetooth. On the notebook side, the power consumption would be no greater than that for Bluetooth, Ozmo says.

If the technology works as claimed, the benefits would be obvious. Just about all notebooks these days ship with Wi-Fi so you wouldn't need a dongle. The technology doesn't require a network either — Ozmo uses peer-to-peer connections between notebooks and devices. Bandwidth, while throttled back along with power consumption, would still be more than adequate for the type of device we're talking about — 9 megabits per second, according to Ozmo.

Of course, for the whole scheme to work, you'll need peripherals that incorporate both Wi-Fi and Ozmo's technology, but the company says Belkin and others have already announced plans to create Ozmo peripherals.

There's just one annoying angle. Ozmo is getting some funding from Intel, and has partnered with Intel to be compatible with the next generation of Centrino (Ozmo is actually exhibiting at Intel's booth at Computex). Consequently, you won't be able to use Ozmo peripherals with existing Wi-Fi notebooks, even though there's no real technical barrier to this (Ozmo says its technology could be added via a firmware upgrade).

I love the idea of getting a dongle-free wireless mouse that actually works. But there's no way I'm getting a new notebook for a few more years (mine is just a year old). On the other hand, realistically Ozmo peripherals and notebooks won't be available until early 2009 — giving Ozmo just enough time to work out the bugs before I'm in the market again.

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Yardena Arar

PC World (US online)

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