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Here Comes the New USB Plug
Here Comes the New USB Plug

By Barry Levine
December 4, 2013 1:16PM

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The USB 3.1 power standard, called Power Delivery, also has the capability to negotiate power, so that, for instance, more power can be delivered to peripherals when the main device is not active, less when the main unit needs it. There are also pilot projects using USB Power Delivery for powering entire offices.

Time to get ready for a new USB plug. The new connector for USB 3.1 will be reversible, so a user can insert it with either side on the top, and it may become the only connector needed for many devices.

On Tuesday, the USB 3.0 Promoter Group announced that it has begun development on the next generation of the famed connector. The new USB Type-C will handle USB 3.1, 3.0 and 2.0 technologies, and is designed to allow for thinner product designs, with a smaller size comparable to the existing USB 2.0 Micro-B. Users will also be able to insert it with either side of the connector up, as with Apple’s Lightning connector.

The connector design, however, will not be compatible with existing USB plugs, including Type-A, Type-B or Micro-B. Currently, USB 3 and 2 ports are compatible. But the new spec will include standards for passive cables and adapters so that users can use their existing peripherals and cables with products having USB Type-C connections.

‘Lay a Foundation’

Brad Saunders, Group Chairman of the USB 3.0 Promoter Group, said in a statement that his organization recognizes “the need to develop a new connector to meet evolving design trends in terms of size and usability,” and that the new connection standard is intended to “lay a foundation for future versions of USB.”

Intel Vice President Alex Peleg told news media that his company is “excited” about the development of a new, thin Type-C connector because it will “enable an entirely new super thin class of devices,” including phones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Since the new USB will be able to carry data, power and video, he said, it may well be the “only connector one will need across all devices.”

The USB 3.1 standard boosted data rates to 10 Gbps, and it can handle power up to 100 watts and 5 amps. By comparison, the 3.0 standard could only provide up to 10 watts and 1.5 amps, so a 3.1 connector is expected to greatly expand the range of devices that can rely on it for power.

Power Delivery

The 3.1 power standard, called Power Delivery, also has the capability to negotiate power, so that, for instance, more power can be delivered to peripherals when the main device is not active, less when the main unit needs it. There are also pilot projects using USB Power Delivery for powering entire offices.

One pending issue is whether the smaller plug will be sturdy enough to withstand frequent use. If it’s the only connector in a tablet, for instance, it needs to withstand the rigors of daily use or the tablet’s utility could be severely compromised.

The spec is intended to be reviewed by the industry in Q1, with a final spec published in the middle of next year. The USB 3.0 Promote Group developed the USB 3.0 spec that emerged in late 2008. Its member companies include Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Microsoft, and Texas Instruments.

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