An outgrowth of a research project at the University of California, Berkeley investigating millimeter wave data transmission, SiBEAM, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Silicon Image, has created a technology that could help eliminate physical connectors from smartphones, tablets, cameras, laptops or any device whose design is constrained by the physical size of peripheral connectors.
SiBEAM Snap wireless connector technology operates in the same 60 GHz frequency band as WiGig, but it operates at a lower power and over much shorter distances. With only a 1 cm range, it can be used to create a wireless docking station. Although the technology is protocol agnostic, its first application implements USB 3.0, offering 12 Gb/s aggregate (6 Gb/s full-duplex) throughput.
The SB6212 Snap transmitter and SB6213 Snap receiver ICs are approximately 4x6 mm in size and don't require an external antenna; the antennae are embedded within the chips. Snap also doesn't require any additional software drivers because they integrate with existing bus technology. While USB is SiBEAM's first target, Snap could also handle HDMI or DisplayPort traffic.
Combined with wireless charging, Snap could help eliminate USB ports from mobile devices, providing several benefits. First, it gives OEMs more freedom to reduce thickness or improve aesthetics when designing products. Implementing dust and water resistance also becomes easier and more foolproof with one less hole to plug. There's also the potential for higher-speed data transfers, depending on the supported protocol and the connecting bus.
Although SiBEAM's Snap technology is limited to scenarios that involve physical contact with a receiving device like a docking station or pad, another 60 GHz technology, 802.11ad or WiGig, extends cable-free connections to anywhere within the same room. Unlike previous Wi-Fi standards that superseded those that came before it, WiGig will work alongside 802.11ac to offer high-speed local transmissions up to 7 Gb/s. There are several vendors, including SiBEAM, currently offering WiGig chipsets.
With the proliferation of wireless technology and ever increasing speeds, cables and connectors could soon be a thing of the past.