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Intel takes aim at computer cable madness

Chipmaker opens an interoperability lab to test the upcoming wireless USB specification.

SAN FRANCISCO--Intel announced two new initiatives Wednesday that could help computer users get rid of the "rat's nest" of cables behind their desks.

The chipmaker, which made the announcement during the Intel Developer Forum here, is one of several companies that have been trying to make the Wireless Universal Serial Bus specification more common to PCs and other consumer electronics. Similar to USB cables, the wireless version of the interconnect technology lets people easily connect a device with PCs and other gear.

Now in an effort intended to spur adoption of Wireless USB, Intel said it is working with Microsoft, NEC, Philips, Texas Instruments and others on a new specification called the Wireless Host Controller Interface (WHCI). The specification will define a standard method in which a Wireless USB device can communicate with a PC's software, and, executives hope, could accelerate industry development of interoperable Wireless USB products.

"The WHCI specification will let us bring out Wireless USB products that are interoperable in 2006," said John Howard, Intel's principal architect for certified Wireless USB.

The new specification will be compatible with the Ultra-Wideband (UWB) radio platform used in Wireless USB and developed by the WiMedia Alliance, a nonprofit industry group.

Ultra-Wideband lets people handle larger data transfers at 110 megabits per second between devices less than 32 feet from one other or 480Mbps speeds at about 10 feet. The technology could be a boon to adding more streaming media to consumer electronics devices and peripherals.

Intel also announced plans to open an interoperability laboratory at one of its offices where companies can test their products for compliance with the maturing specification.

There are more than 2 billion wired USB connections on the market today. The industry group said it hopes to migrate many of those devices and the majority of new ones to Wireless USB. Initially, Wireless USB is expected to be incorporated in silicon chips for use in add-in cards and dongles.