Competition, Cooperation Possible Between Coming USB, FireWire Specs

Carl Weinschenk

Convergence networking discussions most often deal with transmission of data between separate locales. Fast networking within a home or office is important as well, however. This week, according to this InformationWeek story, a promising networking protocol with four names increased its speed by a factor of four.


The spec formerly known as IEEE 1394 is called FireWire by Apple and i.LINK by Sony, the piece says. The new version of the spec, called S3200 (that's the fourth name), will transmit data as fast as 3.2 Gigabits per second (Gbps). A spokesman from the 1394 Trade Association suggests gear using the spec will first be used in storage equipment, but eventually will link devices in homes and offices.


It's not that existing versions of FireWire are laggard. The 1394 Trade Association says that more than 1 billion FireWire ports already have been shipped. The new version is most closely compared to the still-unreleased USB 3.0. The story says that some people think the two will complement each other, while others think they will compete.


This story at Electronics Supply & Manufacturing details the problems wireless USB has encountered and what two organizations -- the WiMedia Alliance and the USB Implementers Forum -- intend to do about them. The story says that the best test-data rates to date have been a glacial 55 Megabits per second (Mbps.)


The problem, according to the story, is that signals must traverse adapters on both the host and peripheral ends of the link. This scenario -- called the Host Wire Adapter/Device Wire Adapter (HWA/DWA) -- slows down the process considerably. The organizations say that native options, in which the adapters are not necessary, are under development. Wireless USB, if it gets its problems ironed out, still is a good physical layer connectivity option for Bluetooth 3.0, experts say.


Though this is a commercial site, USB-Ware provides a good overview of the comparative attributes of FireWire and USB 2.0. It says FireWire has a faster sustained throughput than the current version of USB. The writer says that architectural differences make this so, despite the fact that interface speed of USB 2.0 is 480 Mbps compared to 400 Mbps for FireWire. There is another important difference in the way the platforms work: FireWire uses a peer-to-peer approach in which the peripherals are intelligent. This is a more flexible approach than USB, which uses a "master-slave" set-up in which a computer dictates the data flow. The link offers some read and write speed comparisons.


WiMedia Alliance president Stephen Wood says that the unlicensed spectrum used for UWB and other platforms needs to be divvied up according to the applications being offered. The current lack of organization in the unlicensed spectrum sector, implies this EE Times story, is one of the reasons for the low data rates for wireless USB. The piece says that the WiMedia Alliance has approached a university about dividing the spectrum and thus avoiding fights between providers that want to use it.

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