Buyers rejoice: universal USB has arrived

ES Aug15 Pg14 & 15 Toby 1Another USB standard might seem confusing, but USB-C is good news for buyers, says Toby Electronics’ Jim Portlock, because it offers a universal solution.

Given the plethora of USB standards and formats already in circulation, it is easy to overlook the latest arrival, USB-C. In the short term, yet another USB standard will probably only add to the confusion caused by the range of variants available, but in the long run, it represents excellent news for buyers, designers and customers alike.

That’s because USB-C is intended as a single, future-proof replacement for all previous generations of this ubiquitous connectivity standard. Crucially, USB-C defines a connector that is compact enough for the latest super-thin mobile devices, yet robust enough for applications such as laptops and tablets. Furthermore, USB-C features fully reversible plug orientation and cable direction and supports SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps, USB3.1 Gen 2, and USB power delivery up to 100W. This offers a compelling package for charging and data transfer via just one cable and port.

Simplified sourcing

In short, USB-C represents a universal solution that builds on previous generations to meet the latest demands. For those sourcing USB components, that equates to a more attractive purchasing and supply chain proposition.

Originally unveiled in the summer of 2014, USB-C is now starting to roll off the production lines. Apple’s latest MacBook features USB-C as its solitary charging and data transfer port, as does the new Google Chromebook Pixel and certainly USB-C is set to secure heavyweight support from key players. Furthermore, if previous trends are repeated, migration of USB-C to the industrial sector is pretty much inevitable.

What’s on offer?

So what does USB-C actually comprise? Strictly speaking, it simply defines a reversible, 24-pin connector similar in size to the existing USB 2.0 Micro-B connector and slim enough to fit in compact mobile designs. By offering the potential to utilise existing high speed and high power USB standards, USB-C can reduce the number of ports required and provide design flexibility.

Remember, though, that while USB-C has the capability to support USB3.1, it doesn’t automatically follow that all USB-C products will do so. And while USB-C does not mate directly with existing USB receptacles, ‘new to existing’ adapters and cables will enable end users to connect to their legacy USB devices.

A familiar face

As a USB solution, USB-C is backed by familiarity in the market; the USB installed base already stands at over 10 billion units and is currently growing at a rate of four billion units/year. In contrast to a proprietary connector solution, buyers benefit from the security and cost effectiveness that comes from multiple sources of supply.

Sticking to generic technologies is invariably the best option for those seeking faster delivery times, optimum buying power and protection from sudden disruption to global supply chains. Widely manufactured and stocked, USB gives buyers faced with tight budgets and deadlines the widest possible range of sourcing options. There’s no doubt however, that over recent years, these advantages have been diluted by the increasing number of USB flavours on offer.

For the moment USB-C might only serve to make things a little more complex, but ultimately it will represent a significant step forward for companies looking to combine high performance with a more straightforward and streamlined design and manufacture process.