Wireless USB will help cut the cords

Get ready to be perplexed: There's yet another kind of wireless in town.

Dell dell and Lenovo lnvgy plan to launch the first mainstream laptops equipped with Wireless USB in the next few months. The technology allows electronics, such as a PC and a printer, to communicate without cables.

Sound familiar? Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, WiMax and several other wireless technologies all do essentially the same thing: They use radio waves to send bits of data through the air.

The difference is that Wireless USB can transmit bigger chunks of information at a time. It's fast enough to easily stream a movie from a PC to a TV. Or it can send a huge document from a PC to a printer in seconds. Most other kinds of wireless, such as Wi-Fi, are slower.

The catch: Wireless USB works well only at distances of up to about 30 feet.

The Wireless USB name may be a bit confusing, since most PCs already have USB (universal serial bus) connections. These are the paper-clip-size ports usually found on the side or back of a computer. They're used to plug in digital cameras, music players and other electronics.

Wireless USB is designed to eventually replace these corded connections.

Much of the underlying technology behind USB and Wireless USB is the same — one version just uses wires and one sends information through the air.

Eventually, Wireless USB will be built into the inner workings of many electronics, says Dan Kelley, marketing director for network-gear-maker D-Link. When that happens, a digital camera owner may need to simply push a button to transmit photos to any designated PC within 30 feet.

But that will take a few years, because Wireless USB faces a chicken-and-egg problem, Kelley says. Few people will buy Wireless USB before there are a lot of products that have it.

But electronics makers won't start installing Wireless USB until there's demand. Wireless USB parts cost $5 to $15 wholesale, a sizable sum in the fiercely competitive electronics market, says tech analyst Ken Dulaney at researcher Gartner.

In the short term, add-on adapters can add Wireless USB capability to some electronics. In most cases, the adapters will plug into a regular USB port. Plug an adapter into the USB port on a digital camera, for example, and it will be able to communicate with a Wireless USB-equipped laptop. D-Link plans to launch an early model in a few weeks.

For Wireless USB to take off, electronics makers will also have to explain to consumers how it's different from other kinds of wireless.

"There's a lot of confusion," says Dulaney.

There are so many different kinds of wireless technologies because each one does one thing well, says Tom Ribble, a marketing director at Lenovo.

It will take years for the many types of wireless to work out their differences and for the new technologies to become the norm, says tech analyst Bob O'Donnell at researcher IDC.

But, eventually, "there will be a whole rash of things" without wires, he says.

"It will really improve the experience (of using electronics)," Ribble says.