Applying its pioneering radio frequency (RF) silicon and systems expertise to practical, affordable PC wireless connectivity, Microtune®, Inc. (NASDAQ: TUNE) today introduced the newest technology in its Bluetooth™ portfolio, the patent-pending CableFree USB™ product line. Targeted to the installed base of hundreds of millions of legacy PCs and peripherals, CableFree USB offers a wireless replacement that extends universal serial bus (USB) ubiquity and operation with extended functionality and long-range cordless convenience. It permits manufacturers to develop bundled, easy-to-use retail products that bring consumers a simple, inexpensive way to eliminate clumsy cords and cable clutter in their homes or offices.
The first product in the family, CableFree USB MT0760-CF, is optimized for printers and supports the print modes and operations of Hewlett Packard® (HP), Lexmark™, Epson®, and Canon® devices. Two versions of the product are available, one with wireless print capability to 30 feet and one to 100 feet.
“The key to unleashing the potential of Bluetooth is finding the right application and making it available in the traditional retail channels, offering a practical product with a low price tag that is extremely simple to install and use, and packaging it in an appealing bundle,” explained Joyce Putscher, Director, Converging Markets and Technologies, In-Stat/MRD. “Our research shows consumers are very interested in simple wireless printing. Microtune has previously concentrated its Bluetooth efforts on voice and audio applications, where its technology offers distinct advantages. With its new CableFree USB product line, Microtune is attacking the potentially huge installed base of legacy PCs and peripherals to enable wireless functionality and is doing so with a complete solutions approach.”
CableFree USB: General Purpose USB Wireless Replacement
Unlike Bluetooth dongles or Bluetooth-embedded products, CableFree USB offers a complete, fully interoperable, self-contained solution, with built-in software, that provides wireless point-to-point communications across rooms, labs, workspaces or offices. Complying with conventional USB 1.1 standard protocols and deploying a 2.4 GHz communications link, CableFree USB creates a ‘virtual cable’, allowing peripherals, PCs, notebooks or USB hubs with a USB port to be Bluetooth capable. Its operation is completely transparent to users – they perform functions just as if they are using the cable; the application executes automatically without user intervention.
As an added advantage CableFree USB is secure. Both ends of the connection are paired together for PC and peripheral compatibility, while, at the same time, providing users increased privacy in their communications.
CableFree USB for Printers
CableFree USB MT0760-CF, the version of the product targeted for wireless printing, supports a standard data rate throughput of up to 140 Kbps, comparable to the full-speed operation of a home printer using an RS232 cable. When the technology is packaged by manufacturers for retail, the CableFree USB consumer kit is expected to include two adaptors (with built-in software), power supply and optional connector adaptor – everything the consumer needs to get started. Additionally, the retail price tag is expected to be less than $79, beating the cost of alternative WI-FI (802.11) options.
‘Five Minutes out of the Box’ Installation Experience
Critical for achieving mass-market volumes, CableFree USB offers consumers painless installation and straightforward operation for USB wireless connections. The consumer plugs the MT0760-CF slave adaptor into the PC’s USB port (Type A receptacle) and plugs the master adaptor into the HP, Canon, Epson or Lexmark printer (Type B receptacle). Once the power line is connected, the system is ready for wireless printing. There is no software to load, no card to add, no Bluetooth knowledge required. Hardware requirements are minimal – an available USB port, a popular and current Windows® operating system and a loaded USB printer driver.
“CableFree USB technology was engineered to leverage the compelling advantages of USB familiarity and its huge installed base with a complete, practical solution that can kick-start Bluetooth into the consumer mainstream,” said Douglas J. Bartek, Chairman and CEO of Microtune. “It demonstrates our continuing commitment to RF technology innovation, while marking a significant advancement in wireless PC and peripheral communications.”
Future CableFree USB Products Add Peripherals, Enhanced Speeds and Multipoint Operation
Based on Microtune’s highly integrated Bluetooth system-on-chip technology and comprehensive suite of software, the CableFree USB architecture is protected by two pending patents containing 68 individual claims, keys to delivering its transparent wireless flexibility, mobility and security. Microtune plans to extend the capabilities for networked printing (a 3-pack adaptor set) and for peer-to-peer (non-PC) communications this year. Future additional extensions to the CableFree USB product family will extend the range of peripherals supported (scanners, digital cameras, cable modems and PDAs), will provide for enhanced speeds/throughput, and will offer support for USB 2.0 and Bluetooth 1.2 protocols.
Flexible Design Options for Manufacturers
Consistent with its complete solutions strategy, Microtune provides flexible options to OEM manufacturers in bringing CableFree USB products to market. Microtune offers its Bluetooth silicon and software solution as a standalone option. It also offers the USB slave and master adaptors in pre-certified Reference Designs, available with and without plastics, for accelerated time-to-market. The Reference Designs include all the hardware and software required for the application, as well as comprehensive developer documentation, schematics, bill of materials (BOM) and Gerber files. If suppliers wish to develop their own plastics or build their own boards to differentiate their products, Microtune can provide support.
Unique to this product, Microtune also offers turnkey CableFree USB bundles, i.e. complete manufacturing-ready solutions that include the A and B adapters with software and plastics. Manufacturers can move directly into production with the bundle, supplying only the packaging, branding and peripheral hardware, such as the power adaptor (required) and A/B connector converter (recommended).
Pricing and Availability
The CableFree USB chips, Reference Designs and bundles are available now. The MT0760-CF30 bundle (wireless print capability to 30 feet) and the MT0760-CF100 bundle (wireless print capability to 100 feet), which include the two adapters with software and plastics, are OEM priced at $30 and $35, respectively, in volumes of 100,000.