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MacBook makes a case for wireless docking -- but too soon

Stephen Lawson | March 16, 2015
The new MacBook is supposed to usher in a wire-free future for laptops, but Apple left out technologies that could have saved road warriors a few ungainly wires.

Another plus for WiGig is that it's getting integrated with regular Wi-Fi. New wireless docks will be able to use both technologies and act as access points, said Mark Grodzinsky, a Qualcomm director of product marketing. But the Wi-Fi Alliance won't start certifying WiGig products until next year.

As with any technology, it will take more products to make WiGig cheap enough that manufacturers start putting it in displays and other peripherals, eventually making a dock unnecessary. That probably won't happen until 2018 at the earliest, Grodzinsky said, though things might speed up a lot if WiGig got into a high-profile product — like a MacBook.

"That is the kind of key win I'm talking about," Grodzinsky said. Qualcomm's WiGig chips are already technically ready for a system like the MacBook, he said.

As for MA-USB, its big moment may be a little farther out.

The idea behind a wireless USB standard is that it's compatible with the drivers that devices already use, which can save testing and development time. But the idea of running actual USB over a wireless link has a tortured history. About 10 years ago, the USB Implementers Forum approved a standard for putting the popular transport protocol over UWB (ultrawideband), a technology that ran into obstacles to wide adoption, including different spectrum rules around the world.

Then the group created MA-USB, which was designed with WiGig in mind but can run over multiple protocols, including Wi-Fi. The MA-USB specification was finished about a year ago. Qualcomm says MA-USB can be supported in its WiGig chips and will be included in Snapdragon processors. Intel also plans to support MA-USB. But there's not much evidence that it's caught on yet.

Wireless docking may have missed the boat on this MacBook, but Hung is more optimistic about it than he was a year ago.

"I do think there's a path to getting there," he said.

 

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