What is USB Type-C? What are its uses?

In the past couple of years, we all have seen the advancement in the charging technology from old design USB to USB Type-C charging and Wireless charging. So, if you’ve bought a new smartphone recently, chances are it has a new port used for charging. This new port is officially called USB Type-C. Now, let us understand what exactly USB Type-C is? Its uses and problems.

What is USB Type-C?

USB-C is the latest technology for charging and transferring data. At present, it is included in devices such as laptops, phones, and tablets. With the Advancement of technology in data transfer, in no time it’ll spread to pretty much everything that currently uses the older, larger USB connector.

Unlike the old USB connectors, USB-C gives you the flexibility to use it in the reverse direction as well. But there’s much more to this new connector than just a reversible version of the old USB design though.

USB Type-c
USB Type-c

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USB Type-C Design Specifications

USB Type-C connectors and cables connect to both hosts and devices. It replaces various electrical connectors including USB-B and USB-A, HDMI, DisplayPort, and 3.5 mm audio cables and connectors. The history of the USB connector goes all the way back to 1996 with the USB Type-A connector that you will probably still find on your PC and laptop.

The micro-USB port USB 2.0 came in 2000. It was the connector port of choice for the vast majority until USB-C came along in 2014.

Naming

USB-C and USB Type-C both are the trademarks of USB Implementers Forum.

Connector

USB-C triples the pin count from USB 3.0’s eight pins up to 24 with a port measuring 8.4 millimeters (0.33 in) by 2.6 millimeters (0.10 in). Plugs are found on the cables and the adapters whereas Receptacles are found on devices and adapters.

Cables

All the USB-C cables must be able to carry a minimum current of 3A (at 20 V, 60 W) but it can also carry a high power current of 5A (at 20 V, 100 W). The cables can handle up to 10 Gbit/s data rate at full-duplex.

Receptacles

The receptacle features have four power and four ground pins. The receptacles also have two differential pairs for high-speed USB data, four shielded differential pairs for SuperSpeed data (two transmit and two receive pairs), two Sideband Use (SBU) pins, and two Configuration Channel (CC) pins.

Receptacle
Receptacle
USB_Type-c_Receptacle_pin_layout
USB_Type-c_Receptacle_pin_layout

Plugs

The male connector i.e. the plug has one high-speed differential pair. One of the CC pins is replaced by VCONN. The other pin is used to actually carry the Configuration Channel signals. These are used to determine the orientation of the cable, as well as to carry USB Power Delivery communications.

USB-C plug pinout end-on view
USB-C plug pinout end-on view

USB Type-C vs old USB port

The basic difference between the old and the new standard is the design itself. Both ends of Type-C have a reversible connector of the same size and you can plug it in any which way.

In USB 2.0 and 3.0 ports, there were mainly two types of connectors–Type A and Type B. Type-A connector is bigger and has a rectangular-shaped connector, which is plugged into laptops, desktops, etc. While the other end of the same cable that plugs into smaller devices such as portable hard drives, cameras, and smartphones is called Type B connector.

USB-TypeC-3.0-2.0
USB-TypeC-3.0-2.0
USB-C_3.0_2.0_interface
USB-C_3.0_2.0_interface

From the above diagram, you probably have spotted that the USB-C connector is also backward compatible.


Backward Compatability

You can’t plug older USB devices into a modern, USB-C port or vice-versa. But USB 3.1 port is still backward compatible with older versions of USB. In order for you to use USB-C with older versions of USB, you just need a physical adapter with a USB-C connector on one end and a larger, older-style USB port on the other end. Then only you can plug your older devices directly into a USB Type-C port.

Many computers will still have both USB Type-C ports and older versions of USB ports. Slowly, you’ll see a transition from your old devices, getting new peripherals with USB Type-C connectors.


Charging and Data speeds

If we talk about data transfer speeds, USB Type-C was designed to offer the same speeds as USB 3.1/Gen2, hitting up to 10 Gbit/s data transfers. And that is twice as fast as a standard USB 3.0 port that offers 5 Gbit/s and more than 20x faster than USB 2.0’s 480 Mbit/s data speeds.

Due to backward compatibility demands from the users, only fully featured USB Type-C ports and cables guarantee USB 3.1 data speeds. There are many devices that still only offer USB 2.0 data speeds over this new connector. You must remember that if you’re connecting to backward-compatible ports via a converter cable (such as Type-C to Type-A), you will be limited to the slower speed of the older port.

USB-speed-comparison
USB speed comparison

USB 2.0 ports offer up to 5V, 0.5A of power and 3.0 ports extend this to 5V, 0.9A. USB-C pushes the power delivery even further with options for 1.5A and 3.0A current. You cannot judge the exact power just by looking at the connector, but Type-C theoretically offers higher speed charging.

In addition to the power options, Type-C devices can be fully compatible with the USB Power Delivery specifications. This can be used to increase the basic charging options with even higher power delivery all the way up to 100W.

The conclusion is that USB Type-C devices should enable faster data transfers and charge times than the previous USB versions. However, the specifications depend on what the manufacturers decide to implement.

What are the advantages of USB Type-C?

Advantages of USB Type-C

1. Small Size – Even though the USB Type-C contains more pins than the older versions of USB, the size is still small.

2. Reversible – It doesn’t matter which side is up with a Type-C plug; you can insert it either way.

3. Faster – USB-C ports can transfer data up to 10 gigabits per second.

4. More powerful – The new port can provide up to 100 watts of power, enough to power a laptop.

5. Very flexible – Users will be able to connect older devices to Type-C ports via adapters, even devices that use non-USB technologies, like DisplayPort, VGA, and Ethernet.

What are the Problems with USB Type-C?

Problems with USB Type-C

Even though USB Type-C is clearly the future in the field of connectors, it has a lot of problems. Here are a few things every user needs to know before using USB-C cables and devices:

1) Bad Cable

This is the basic thing you need to look out for if you are a newbie with USB Type-C. In the older versions of USB, a cable was pretty much a cable. But that’s not the case with USB-C, and ignoring this could cost you dearly.

The problem occurs when you try to use a cable with an older USB-A connector on one end and the new USB-C connector on another. USB-C devices support faster charging than USB-A. So, for e.g, if you plug a USB-A device into a USB-C port using one of these cables, the phone may draw too much power. It could fry your phone, USB-C port, or even your computer.

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To be fair, not all these cables are bad. Properly-made cables can have resistors inline to prevent this from happening. But the thing is that it can be really hard figuring out which cables are good and which are not.

If you’re buying from a reliable vendor that provides good technical specifications you might not face this issue.

You can also check out resources like USBcCompliant.com to ensure your cable won’t cause any problems.

2) All USB Type-C ports are not the same

If we talk about USB-A, things were relatively simple: basically anything you could plugin would work. That’s not the case with USB-C. Most of the cables in the market still support USB 2.0 rather than USB 3.0 or 3.1.

Also, most of the USB-C cables in the market are based on USB 2.0 rather than 3.1 because they are only designed for charging. If you try to use them for anything else, like connecting devices or transferring data, they will either not work, or will be extremely slow.

Before using any USB-C cable, read the specifications of the cable, it should match with your device.

3) Port shortages

Another biggest problem with the reversible USB-C port with smartphones: there’s a lack of them on devices. The replacement of audio and power jacks by a single USB-C port is already a headache. Now consumers are reaching for dongles and hubs to fix the issue at their inconvenience. That creates another issue that whether your hub or dongle supports the same charging method or not, or if data can still pass through to another device.

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