Wireless personal area networks (WPANs) were once thought to be the exclusive domain of low-power wireless technologies such as Bluetooth. But if feisty startup company Ozmo Devices has its say, wireless-local-area-network (WLAN) technology, commonly known as Wi-Fi, may be the solution of choice for WPANs in a wide range of low-power portable electronic devices. Founded as H-Stream Wireless in 2004, Ozmo Devices now offers a low-power WPAN solution that may benefit many wireless peripheral products, including accessories for personal computers, communications devices, portable audio and video players, and gaming consoles.

The Ozmo Devices solution includes a software driver that coexists with the Wi-Fi transceiver or integrated circuit (IC) and its software in the host platform, such as a personal computer, and a highly integrated chip that is embedded in the peripheral product, such as a wireless mouse. The Ozmo Devices approach basically uses an existing Wi-Fi device, such as a notebook personal computer or a Blackberry personal digital assistant (PDA), in conjunction with the new driver, to form a wireless network and communicate with peripheral devices that carry the embedded Ozmo Devices chip.

The Ozmo chip is highly integrated and designed to operate with extremely low power, so it is ideal for wireless products such as computer mice and headsets that depend on long battery life and low-power operation. The chip includes a full transceiver capable of operating at in both the 2.4- and 5-GHz frequency bands. The software driver enables enables the Ozmo radio to operate seamlessly with the Wi-Fi system as well as the WPAN and its various devices. The Ozmo Devices' chip is a complete system-on-chip (SoC) design consisting of a dual-band (2.4 and 5 GHz) radio, baseband circuitry, central processing unit (CPU), and digitalsignal- processing (DSP) circuitry, with standard digital input and output (I/O) ports for connection to peripheral products. As Ozmo Devices' president and chief executive officer (CEO), Dave Timm, reveals, "we are using a conventional CMOS process for the chip, for low current consumption." The SoC occupies less area than a postage stamp. "We are trying to make it easy for our customers to integrate our solution into their products," says Timm.

The privately held company was founded by its current chief technical officer, Katelijn Vleugels, and current vice-president of Marketing and Business Development, Roel Peeters, building on Katelijn's concept of using the capabilities of a Wi-Fi network to "carry" a WPAN. The firm is being built with talented individuals, including Jon Edney, an expert in encryption who is currently the company's vice-president of software development and heading Ozmo's United Kingdom branch.

Ozmo Devices is currently demonstrating its WPAN solution on the Intel Centrino host processor, with customers beginning development programs to integrate Ozmo Devices' combination of software and hardware into their own products, such as a wireless mouse. Early adopters for the technology include Belkin (www.belkin. com), the well-known manufacturer of computer and media-player accessories. Brian VanHarlingen, senior technologist at Belkin, volunteers that "Ozmo Devices' innovative, practical approach to low-power Wi-Fi PAN promises to deliver both rich functionality and convenience through previously unrealized Wi-Fi functionality. We view Ozmo's technology as offering unique value to the peripheral market, and we look forward to introducing solutions that deliver on these promises."

The Ozmo approach is a cost-effective means of creating WPAN capability within products that are already designed for WLAN or Wi-Fi use. It is a means of establishing a WPAN by leveraging the Wi-Fi chip inside the main platform, and avoiding the installation of a Bluetooth chip in the process. Transmissions within the WPAN using the combination of the Wi-Fi radio and the Ozmo Devices chip would appear to an activity receiver as Wi-Fi packets. According to Timm, the Ozmo approach can support several dozen devices as part of a WPAN, compared to only seven devices for a Bluetooth approach. Communications within the WPAN using the Ozmo approach occurs point to point between the host and the peripheral device, rather than by using an access point as a repeater, so there are no latency issues. Connection time for an Ozmo Devices' WPAN is less than 1s, compared to the 3 to 5s required for a Bluetooth-based WPAN.

For those concerned with any degradation in the host Wi-Fi system's performance, there is none since the Ozmo Devices' part of the WPAN operates completely synchronously with the Wi-Fi system, honoring the quality of service (QoS) issues of the Wi-Fi system. As Timm explains, "We feel our approach will not collide with other devices in the band and will not cause downtime because it is synchronous with the Wi-Fi network and is using unused packets from the network." In contrast, a Bluetooth mouse may cause interference with a Wi-Fi network, since it competes for the same bandwidth.

The Ozmo Devices approach to WPAN supports data rates to 9 Mb/s, which is sufficient for streaming digital audio information to wireless speakers. The company's executives, including co-founder Roel Peeters, are eyeing a wide range of applications for their technology, including wireless gaming devices such as the Sony PSP, digital audio players, and even dual-mode cordless telephones and wireless voice-over- Internet-protocol (VoIP) telephones.

One of the keys to achieving reliable performance within the Wi-Fi framework has been the development of an effective protocol, which is essentially an extension to the IEEE 802.11 protocol used for Wi-Fi WLANs. The Ozmo Devices extension manages aggressive duty cycles on both sides of the link to integrate its own data packets in synchronism with the Wi-Fi network.

The Ozmo WPAN approach is noteworthy for its security, since it follows the IEEE 802.11i security provisions used by WLANs as well as the Wi-Fi Protected Setup adopted by the W-Fi Alliance for secure connections. Ozmo Devices, 2595 East Bayshore Rd., Suite 100, Palo Alto, CA 94303; (650) 515-3524, Internet: www.ozmodevices.com.