Finally, ultra-wideband makes it into a product – and what an intriguing product it is. There isn’t anything quite like this, but will that be enough to sell it?
I never thought I’d actually get my hands on an ultrawideband device, let alone one that worked. Whether or not it succeeds in the market, the Leyio, launched toay in London has at least changed these expectations.
It’s also gone beyond them in being a product that meets a recognisable need, and is packaged up so people can use it – and the underlying technology breakthrough is almost incidental.
Ultrawideband (UWB) is a revolutionary wireless technology that can communicate very fast, over short distances. It’s been exciting wireless experts for several years, until around about 2003 it looked set for a breakthrough.
UWB spreads signals over a very wide spectrum, using such low power they are under the “noise threshold” and therefore allowed under most wireless regulations. But after standards wars and failed products, the industry looked like giving up on it, and the Bluetooth chose to use Wi-Fi for its faster evolution.
Anyone who’s been following UWB will know what to expect. UWB products so far have been rubbish. They’ve been slipshod prototypes, demonstrations with hidden wires, slideware or promises. But Leyio, by contrast, emerged in a London bar, in three colours, with a casing and design intended to appeal to the iPod generation. And, most importantly, it works.
The fast data works!
The Leyio is minimalist. It’s a small white device, with a curved back. I’m just back from the launch and I don’t have a ruler, but it’s about 2in by 4in, and weighs about 150g. The front panel has a power button, a colour screen and a fingerprint scanner, which doubles as an entry device (it registers your thumb sliding in four directions).
On the sides, it has a mini-USB socket, a full-size USB socket with a cover, and a removable 2G Flash module known as the “Shuttle”.
It’s focused on one job: sharing data. And when I say focused, I mean focused. It doesn’t play media, it doesn’t include a phone or GPS, or anything else. You can view photos on the screen, but that’s it. All you are supposed to do with this is carry up to 16Gbyte of data, and share it with others.
UWB sharing is the first thing to look at. You select the content you want to share, browsing with the fingerprint scanner. Then you and another Leyio user press and hole your on-switches, which turns on the UWB. You register each other’s presence, and then you shake your device (it’s got an accelerometer) and the data moves.
At the launch, Leyio’s CEO Bruno Maurel sent me a 100Mbyte CD in around 10 seconds, so the 80Mbps speed claims appear to check out. The radio itself is capable of much faster speeds, said Maurel, it is only limited by the fact that the Flash memory in the device can read and write at 10Mbyte per second.