Ozmo's chip and software turn Windows 7 laptop into Wi-Fi hotspot

Laptop driver works with 'SoftAP' feature in OS

Improved silicon and firmware from Ozmo Devices will turn a Wi-Fi-equipped Windows 7 laptop into a local hotspot for peripherals such as a keyboard and mouse.

To do this, peripherals makers embed the Ozmo2000 radio chip and firmware into their devices. The chip now can exploit the laptop's built-in Wi-Fi adapter, with a new Ozmo driver that supports the Windows 7 SoftAP (Access Point) feature. The laptop's radio can simultaneously support regular Internet connectivity and a kind of wireless personal area network of local devices, with a data rate of 9Mbps.

Though Bluetooth is the leading technology today for such personal networks, not all laptops have this short-range, low-power radio (Ozmo executives say only about half do). But nearly every laptop sold today has built-in Wi-Fi.

Laptops will be the first but not the last device for personal area Wi-Fi networks. Flat-panel TVs, game controllers, headphones, wireless speakers, are all potential targets. "We'll branch out from windows7 laptops to everything that has Wi-Fi today," says Bill McClean, CEO of Ozmo.

Ozmo was launched to leverage this, and made Network World's 2008 list of wireless companies to watch. The company offers a driver that runs on a Windows laptop, and the radio chip for the peripheral devices. The company created a "TDMA-like" extension to the IEEE 802.11 protocol, making it possible for the laptop and devices to exchange information on a predictable schedule, instead of using the protocol's customary contention technique.

The 9Mbps connections are point to point within a 30-foot range, and can use both the 2.4GHz and 5GHz bands. Security is enabled with the Wi-Fi Protected Setup standard, from the Wi-Fi Alliance. Users see and control connections just as they would with wired USB devices.

In future, Ozmo chips will support the Wi-Fi Alliance's Wi-Fi Direct specification, an attempt to standardize the kind of point-to-point communications (while still linked to an access point) that Ozmo currently supports.

Ozmo has a minimum impact on the laptop's battery, according to CEO Bill McClean. "When you use Wi-Fi, the chip is on, and we're only marginally increasing the amount of time that chip is on," he says. "Our power consumption can actually be lower than other solutions."

The company has announced contracts with two "original design manufacturers" that will incorporate the Ozmo technology into components and products that will eventually bear consumer electronics brands. One is Primax Electronics, a Taiwan-based mouse manufacturer that is the world leader in wireless mouse products, according to McClean. The second is NMB Technologies.

The new silicon is available in sample quantities. Ozmo plans to chip in volume during Q-4 2010 with user products expected in the first half of 2011.

The company just completed a fourth round of funding, raising an additional $10.8 million, led by Atlantic Bridge Ventures, with existing investors Granite Ventures and Intel Capital.

Follow John Cox on Twitter: http://twitter.com/johnwcoxnww.

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