The company formerly known as WaveConnex has emerged from stealth mode, unveiled its new name and, more importantly, its wireless connector technology. Now called Keyssa, the company’s patented Kiss Connectivity will remind many of WiGig, but claims to be far more power-efficient than WiGig or WiFi. It’s due to appear in devices in 2015, but no names have been released yet.
The technology operates in the extremely high frequency (EHF) band at 60GHz, and claims a data-rate of up to 6Gbps – as fast as the connection between a SATA3 hard drive and a motherboard. This allows it to transfer very large files at fast speeds, but also support high bandwidth protocols such as USB 3.0, DisplayPort, PCIe, and the aforementioned SATA.
The trade-off is the one-centimeter range of the link, which is required to maintain a suitable quality, and which clearly limits the use cases. The ‘kiss’ connection is designed to be automatically initiated by proximity. No software or drivers are required, according to Keyssa, and the unit can coexist with the emerging wireless power standards.
These capabilities aren’t new. WiGig has found a place in the market in Dell’s high end laptops, where it currently lives in a chip on a workstation dock that connects peripherals (mouse, keyboard, monitors, storage) to the laptop wirelessly. However, Keyssa distinguishes itself by its claim that its technology has power consumption “orders of magnitude lower than other wireless solutions”.
Another claimed benefit of the Kiss method is increased security, because the technique forms a point-to-point connection and not a network-based connection as do WiGig and WiFi. Another benefit is that, because the technology uses established transfer standards, the process of incorporating it into OEM designs is far more straightforward for manufacturers.
The main use cases envisioned by Keyssa are file transfers between mobile devices and fixed docking stations, mobile-to-mobile connections, and 4K streaming from mobile devices to TV. However, these are problematic for a number of reasons.
It must be asked what need there is for this technology in mobile devices. Due to the constraints of physical storage, transferring 4K video files to a mobile device seems impractical when they could be streamed instead – especially if the screen resolution is not high enough to see the detail found in the larger file. Similarly, range dictates that the device must be within a centimeter of the source – so why not plug the phone in?
USB C 3.1 and its 10Gbps bandwidth is only a generation away, but as you can’t store hundreds of gigabytes of data on a handset anyway, it’s a little hard to get enthused about the ability to fill the phone’s flash memory four times over in under 10 seconds. A bank of three USB 3.1 ports would provide inbound and outbound power and data connections from the phone, and arguably be more valuable to consumers than low power, low range, high bandwidth wireless connections.
Therefore, it is hard to think of many instances when this becomes a widely used consumer product – although businesses and professionals who regularly move large files (media, medical, industrial design) may find some uses for it in those cases where Ethernet isn’t applicable.
The real breakthrough may be in the area of industrial design, for handsets or smaller IoT gadgets. The hardware itself is the size of a coffee bean, according to its designers. As the construction doesn’t use metal, Keyssa says it is immune to RF and EM interference. Thanks to the wireless connection, the module can be located anywhere on the device – unlike a physical port which must be placed on the edge by necessity.
Keyssa’s chairman, Tony Fadell (the man behind the iPod and now the Nest thermostat), is quite passionate about connector placement. “For the last 25 years, I’ve had to struggle with delicate metal connectors that put unsightly holes in otherwise beautiful products. I expect Kiss Connectivity will spark an immediate wave of industrial design innovation,” he said.
Consequently, Keyssa asks us to “kiss old connectors goodbye”, with its tiny embedded solid-state silicon, which it claims can set product design free by removing the physical constraints of sockets and ports. With wireless connectivity and charging (currently a rather fractured market), it would be possible to make a phone which had no ports at all – which could be even thinner, more watertight and lighter.
There might even be increases in rigidity afforded, but most significantly, designers could achieve a significant drop in the BOM (bill of materials) – though only if the Keyssa silicon is cheaper to buy than the myriad of physical connectors needed to replace it in the device. Kiss Connectivity also has to take hold in the end-device markets too, or the technology will be permanently stuck in a chicken-and-egg scenario.
“Connectors are a $50bn+ industry that – unlike every other aspect of mobile and computer hardware – has remained undisrupted for decades,” said Eric Almgren, Keyssa’s CEO, also founder of Silicon Image. “We reinvented the connector and designed a new category of contactless connectivity that’s elegant, power efficient, and can meet the exponentially growing demands of consumers for creating and consuming rich media.”
WaveConnex was born out of joint work by Frank Chang, an electrical engineering professor at Californian university UCLA, and veteran chipmaker Gary McCormick. They cooperated to solve the bottlenecks that physical connectors were causing in experiments. Early backer NantWorks recognized the value of high speed transfers in medical ecosystems, and Keyssa has since earned $47m in venture funding to support its 40 employees. In its five-year existence, the company has filed about 100 patents, and has attracted investment from Intel and Samsung.