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A Zippier Way to Share Big Files?

Startup Keyssa wants to replace cords and connectors with speedy wireless transfer technology.

There aren’t many ways to quickly and wirelessly move big files from one device to another.

A startup called Keyssa has developed technology to wirelessly transfer large amounts of data, like movies and music collections, from one gadget to another in seconds, rather than the minutes (or  longer) it can take with a USB drive or over Wi-Fi.

The company created a chip that uses high-frequency radio waves to transfer data extremely quickly between two devices that are touching each other. The plan is to put the chips in gadgets like laptops, computer docks, tablets, and smartphones; users could then transfer entire photo collections or movies in seconds by letting two devices “kiss,” in Keyssa’s parlance. That could be especially useful as higher-resolution video formats like 4K become more widespread.

Eventually, Keyssa envisions its chip-based connector replacing all kinds of metal ones, including those in smartphones—something that could become more realistic and sought-after as wireless charging improves

Keyssa, whose board is led by Nest CEO Tony Fadell, expects the first products containing its connectors to be released in the second half of next year; it isn’t divulging how much it will cost for manufacturers to add the chips to devices.

In its first iteration the technology will be able to move data as quickly as six gigabits per second; at that speed, a two-gigabyte movie could be transferred in a little less than three seconds. That’s faster than a USB stick, which has a top speed of five gigabits per second over USB 3.0, or over a regular Wi-Fi connection with a top speed of about 1.3 gigabits per second.

When I visited Keyssa’s office, Roger Isaac, vice president of system engineering and Mariel Van Tatenhove, vice president of marketing, demonstrated the company’s so-called “kiss connectivity” by transferring the movie Avatar: a USB 3.0 dongle was connected to a computer dock that contained Keyssa’s chip, and a tablet that also had a chip added to it sat in the dock. The film transferred wirelessly from dongle to tablet via the dock in about 47 seconds—slower than if the dongle was able to operate at full USB 3.0 speed, I was told, but much faster than an unmodified tablet that was simultaneously transferring the same movie from a USB 2.0 dongle that was plugged into it.

Isaac said Keyssa uses frequencies in the 60-gigahertz range to transfer information. Once devices are within millimeters of each other, they can send data to and fro.

And beyond adding its chips to the tablet and dock, the company didn’t make other modifications to the software on the tablet to get Keyssa to work: “This is just the next generation of connection,” he said.

However, Payam Heydari, an electrical engineering professor at the University of California, Irvine, who studies wireless data transfers, isn’t sure that the technology would really be in demand beyond, say, transferring data between laptops and TVs.

Heydari also notes that versions of Wi-Fi in the works will be more competitive. Samsung, for instance, said in October that it came up with its own 60 gigahertz Wi-Fi technology that would enable data transfers of up to 4.6 gigabits per second—still slower than Keyssa’s maximum promised speed, but plenty faster than today’s Wi-Fi standard.

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