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USB via Ethernet/WiFi/Fiber (App Note)

Note:  The T7-Pro has WiFi built-in.  The Ethernet interface on the T7 or UE9 make them an excellent choice for wireless data acquisition using standard WiFi 802.11 equipment. See this app note for more information:

Using the UE9 for wireless data acquisition

Summary

Many people see the common little dongles that convert USB to Ethernet, WiFi, or Bluetooth, and think that might be a solution. In USB there are hosts and devices. Hosts and devices must connect to each other (or to a hub). Hosts can’t connect to hosts, and devices can’t connect to devices. Those common dongles convert a USB host to Ethernet, WiFi, or Bluetooth.  The LabJack is a USB device, and those dongles cannot connect to a USB device.

This app note demonstrates practical ways to connect to a USB device via Ethernet, WiFi, etc. Connect the USB device to a USB server, and the USB device will be available on the network.  USB servers can be either wired or wireless.  Alternatively, go fiber optic with a USB extender.  The sections below describe these solutions in greater detail.

Wireless USB Server

A USB server is a USB hub that connects to a network, and through that network makes a connection to a remote host:

http://www.silexamerica.com/products/device_servers/usb_device_connectiv...

We have tested the SX-2000WG and use it quite often. It can be described as “USB over IP”, where the IP link happens to be WiFi in this case.

A “USB over IP” device is nice because there is no hardware at your computer besides your normal network connection. However, you will need to run some sort of software (provided by the manufacturer of course) that maps the remote hub so your computer thinks it is local. When the software is running, the remotely-connected USB device will appear as though it is connected locally.  You can even see it in the "safely remove/eject" menu.

 

Wired USB Server

Similar to the above, but uses a normal CAT5 wired connection rather than WiFi.  We have tested the following units with the LabJack U3 and U12.  

Unless otherwise stated, they all worked on the U3 both in LJControlPanel and LJStreamUD, and also on the U12 for LJconfig and LJscope.  It should also be noted that after installation, one must click "allow access" to get through normal windows firewall protection.

StarTech.com: 4 Port USB Device Server

  • Easy software installation, although it required a system restart.  User interface was straightforward, and had some nice features including a 'run .exe on connect option' for custom executable calls.  The connectivity and searching functionality was robust, and the menus were intuitive. 

Arkview: Networking USB 2.0 Server

  • Encountered no issues during software installation.  This USB server did recognize the U12 and the U3, but it took a few attempts for them to show up on the server, and then when switching devices it would often lose connection.  This unit was the least impressive of the bunch.

SIIG: USB over IP 1-Port

  • The installer reports that it is not compatible with Windows 7, so this unit was tested in Windows XP.  It works well as a 1-port option, the whole design is very simple, and there are not many options for customization.  

TRENDnet: 4-Port network USB Hub

  • Software installation was straightforward, and after a restart the program detected a connected LabJack without issue.  Unlike the StarTech.com software, this program does not allow custom program execution on connect.  The U12 did not work flawlessly, it had write errors during LJscope.  Consequently it is not recommended for the U12.
SUMMARY: The StarTech.com 4 Port USB Device Server was above the rest in terms of options and reliability, but the SIIG: USB over IP 1-Port would work well as a single port option on any compatible windows platform.

Some additional products include the SX-DS-4000U2 or SX-3000GB:

http://www.silexamerica.com/products/device_servers/usb_device_connectiv...

http://www.amazon.com/TECHNOLOGY-HI-SPEED-DEVICE-SERVER-1000BASE/dp/B003AM0DNY

Again, this would be "USB over IP".

 

USB Extension

These devices can be thought of as replacing a single USB cable (which could go to a hub of course).  Some sort of dongle connects to USB on your computer, that dongle connects to a remote dongle using a cable (CAT5 or fiber optic) capable of longer distance than USB, and the remote dongle provides 1 or more USB ports.

We have used the Icron Ranger 2104 and found it to be very solid:

Other similar devices:

http://usbstuff.com/icron.html

http://usbstuff.com/opticis.html

Another type of extension is simply a USB cable with a 1-port hub on the end:

http://usbstuff.com/activeextension.html

An advantage to this type of connection is that it does not require any special software and the hardware itself just looks like a normal USB connection.

 

Isolation

Most of the solutions above can provide electrical isolation.  WiFi, Ethernet, and fiber optics all provide isolation in their normal design.  Likely not isolated are USB extensions not using fiber optic cable.

If isolation is the main concern, just search "USB isolator" to find some options.  Here is one for $42.  Note that many of these use the ADuMx160 chips from Analog Devices and might be configured for full-speed devices only.  The U3/U6/UE9 are full-speed USB devices, but the U12 is a low-speed USB device.

 

18 comments

Check the software solution from Fabulatech.com, "USB over Network"  I have tested it with the U12 and the U3; no problems so far. Great solution to overcome the USB cable length restriction.

I also tested fabulatech software with U12 and U3. Works fine but costs too much. I have found cheeper software on this site

Hello,

I am using the SEH MYUTN54 with Labjack U6.

Works fine.

Thanks for the report.  Looks similar to the Silex SX-2000WG that we use regularly.

Belkin F5L049EA would be another a little cheaper solution, but will it work?

To be honest the best would be an integration of WiFi into some Labjack also adding a SD-card for storage - ups and this would give a totally different solution - namely a stand alone unit. But this is my firm belief that USB-connected hardware will die out in the time of web-enabled everything and IP-stacks everywhere.

I had trouble finding much info about the F5L049EA, but is looks like it is specific to printers and mass storage devices, not a general purpose USB Server like the SX-2000WG.  My guess is it will not work.

WiFi, SD card, RTC => You will not have to wait too long ...

USB phased out by Ethernet/WiFi =>  Maybe, but not too soon I think.  USB is so pervasive, USB silicon is cheaper, and USB is better equipped to provide power to devices.  So cost/convenience/simplicity will keep USB popular despite advantages of Ethernet/WiFi.

What is the average range for the USB over IP connector? I am working on a project that requires me to be at least 200 ft away from the connector. Could I connect the wired USB connector to a router to get more range?

Once the device near the LabJack converts the USB to IP, you now just have standard Ethernet.  You can use any standard Ethernet/WiFi gear to get the distance you need.

According to various standards, the maximum length for an Ethernet segment is 100 meters.

Hi, I am on a project that is video related. We're getting video output from a video/IR sensor in the form of USB output. This video is then analyzed by our video engine on an external PC. The video engine accepts IP input, it is designed for IP cameras. Do you have a device that will perform this conversion from the USB output to IP input, while maintaining the video image integrity?

Thanks for your help.

Ken

This is not in the realm of equipment we make, but I would guess that the software needs to support USB cameras.  I would talk to the software maker.

Thanks for your prompt reply. If we use the USB-IP converter, wouldn't we get the same video signal in IP format on the output? The software can handle IP video.

A USB Server transports communication between a USB host and USB device over an IP layer, but back at the host a virtual driver makes it look like a USB device connected directly to the host.  Perhaps talk to Silex who makes USB Servers.

Ah yes, that makes sense. Thank you for your explanation.

Hi,

My name is John Halloran, and I am a product manager for our USB Device Servers (USB over IP connectivity products):

http://www.silexamerica.com/products/connectivity-solutions/device-networking/usb-parallel-connectivity/

We have seen a variety of success stories with many different applications from customers using our USB Device Server products with the labjack.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact our sales or tech support teams: http://www.silexamerica.com/contact/

Thanks!

John

 

I need usb over IP (wireless) working under OSX, but all the devices I found are designed for windows. How shall I do it in OSX?

Take a look at the current Silex USB device servers as their specifications mention OS X support.

Also, the LabJack T7-Pro has built-in WiFi so a USB device server is not necessary.

Alex Green's picture

I’ve used a wireless device in the past, then I already know their limitations as dead zones and problems with a number of USB ports, but it is herein only hardware approach.

Latterly I came across of very interesting information about software solution - when you can access all your USB devices over LAN or network: How to share serial port over network (http://www.flexihub.com/serial-over-network.html). It's easier and more functional.

LabJack Support's picture

This post seems a little spammy, but this Flexihub software does seem interesting.  I appears that it will let a computer use USB devices that are connected to some other computer.