Devices with USB Type-C connectors have been on the market for several months, but our users often ask questions like these:
Why can’t I use fast-charging with USB Type-C port on my smartphone?
Why does the dock work only with the original USB type-C cable of the smartphone and not with any other?
Why, can’t I transfer high-speed data when using USB Type-C?
In our article about the USB Type-C connector we’ll offer some insights and answer to some similar questions, talk about many tools to understand the issues associated with this new standard.
NOTE: approaches to our report can be many: confident users can give priority to the FAQ section and read the final summary; and those who want to integrate the analysis with insights on themes and aspects related to the USB Type-C connector can Review the sections ‘To deepen’ and the sources used to write the article at the end of the page.
We recommend everyone not to overlook the section ” the common mistake: connector and connection are not the same thing” because there we discuss an extremely important aspect in order to fully understand the USB Type-C connector.
USB Type-C is a connector and port used by electronic devices such as tablets, smartphones, laptops, 2-in-1, accessories for these product categories (cables, adapters,Usb C hubs, docking stations, dongles, power supplies, power-banks) And monitors. USB Type-C and USB C are both registered trademarks of the USB Implementers Forum (USB IF) *, which began to outline its features in 2013. You can use either word as they both identify the same connector/port (in Italian language it’s identified as USB type C).
USB Type-C is the latest evolution of USB connectors and can transfer – even simultaneously – data, video and audio, power supply to and from the hosting device (bidirectional). The USB Type-C standardization process was carried out by the USB IF together with the USB 3.1 interface: this created a bit of confusion between the concept of USB Type-C connector and the USB 3.1 interface, as we will explain later. For now, you just need to know that these are distinct entities and that one can’t be exchanged with the other.
* A nonprofit organization, founded by a group of companies that develop and promote USB (Universal Serial Bus)
WHY DO WE TALK ABOUT IT AGAIN
The most important aspect of our study focuses on a specific feature of devices equipped with a USB Type-C interface, starting from purely practical issues. In more than one occasion, the user may mistakenly believe that any device with USB Type-C port can interact with another equipped with the same port, supporting all the features mentioned at the beginning.
This is a wrong assumption based on the idea that the USB Type-C is a standard connection that equals a standard set of functionality. However, not always the interoperability between USB Type-C devices happens as you imagine it, and that’s why it’s related to three possible variables: two devices and the cable (or adapter) that connects them.
The combination of these three variables can cause unwanted effects. Let’s make some examples from personal experience:
Not all cables connecting power supply and smartphone with USB Type-C port and quick charging support allow you to take advantage of this feature
A docking station, such as the Continuum, only works with the official cable provided
These facts can raise questions such as: is the UBS Type-C a standard connector or not? And again: why can’t I not use any USB Type-C cable to take advantage of the many features the USB Type-C can offer? These are questions that are becoming more and more common in the market scenario, characterized by a growing number of devices with a USB Type-C connector. Before we start digging into the matter, let’s briefly analyze the family the USB Type-C belongs to.
USB, A GREAT FAMILY OF DIFFERENT VERSIONS AND TYPES
When referring to Universal Serial Bus (USB), we talk about features that can be traced back to two macro-categories: versions and types/typologies. The versions identify speed and functionality supported by the USB interface, whereas the USB type refers to the physical shape and wiring of the port and connector. The specifications of both are provided by the USB Implementers forum.
Such a distinction should be clear in order to understand some of the issues that touch the most important theme of our in-depth study. Many of the misunderstandings arise from the wrong use of the concept of version and type/typology: these concepts must be kept separate, as we will clarify later on.
Here’s a practical example: Sometimes we refer to a device with USB Type-C 2.0 or 3.1, it’s actually more appropriate to refer to it as the USB Type-C connector with USB 2.0 or 3.1 interface support. The desire to identify the functionality of the device in a synthetic and easy way mixes up two elements that should be kept separated as one (the USB Type-C connector) does not necessarily imply the other (an UBS interface 2.0 or 3.1).
To Deepen, here’s a brief overview of the different types (connectors) and versions (speed and functionality) of the USB interface:
USB TYPE-A Standard: this is the original model, with a unique rectangular shape, produced in both male and female version (doors). A Type-A USB connector can support USB 1.1, USB 2.0 and USB 3.0. Connector-to-port compatibility is independent to the USB version type: for instance, a USB 3.0 device will work even if connected to a USB 2.0 port. There are two more options: the USB Mini Type-A and USB Micro Type-A, smaller in size and integrated in mobile devices.
Standard USB Type-A connector with USB 3.0 support differs from the standard USB Type-A connector with USB 2.0 support for the larger number of pins, necessary for high-speed data transfer: 4 pins for power supply and data in version 2.0, become 9 pins in the version 3.0 However, the connector is physically compatible with the previous versions and its shape remains unchanged.
USB TYPE-B is available in five main options: the standard one has the connector on the other end of a standard USB cable (Type-A) and is used in PCs to connect large devices such as printers and scanners. It is also identified as USB Type-B male, and on the device as USB Type-B female. It was used together with USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 versions.
We have then the more compact types, Mini USB or Mini B USB, found in portable devices (such as cameras) and Micro USB or Micro-B USB, even smaller than the previous one, and replaced by the USB Type-C connector.
The Micro USB 3.0 or Micro B USB 3.0 connector is often used on portable hard drives; in most cases, the cable with a Micro USB 3.0 connector ends with a Blue Type-A USB connector. Lastly, there’s the USB Type-B Standard with USB 3.0 support, with a design similar to the standard USB Type-B but blue.
The five main categories listed above include two less common designs: the USB Powered-B connector (with two additional pins to provide additional power to the devices), and the Micro Type-AB, that allows the device to function as a host as well.
Before going back to the USB Type-C connector, let’s recall the main features of the many different USB versions:
Note: The USB IF by approving the USB 3.1 specifications retroactively renamed the USB 3.0 version 3.1 3.1 – the USB 3.1 specifications are identified as USB 3.1 Gen 2. To (try to) avoid the risk of confusion between the two versions of the specifications, USB IF has approved the USB SuperSpeed (for USB 3.0/USB 3.1 Gen 1) and USB SuperSpeed + (for USB 3.1/USB 3.1 Gen 2) logos below.
USB Type-C, VERSATILITY AND POWER IS NECESSARY FOR FUTURE DEVICES
The USB Type-C connector is the ultimate result to match a market trend that will hardly come to terms with involutions. Electronic devices are increasingly mobile.
A small connector and door that can transmit data, video, audio and charge a device at the same time is therefore required to ensure good connectivity, without affecting the overall size of the device (think, for example, of the considerable benefits in terms of thickness of laptops and 2-in-1 devices). The USB Type-C port has a size of 8.4mm x 2.6mm, not so different from the Micro USB/Micro-B USB connector. Unlike the previous types, it allows to connect the connector regardless of the direction.
Just compare the structure of USB Type-C (see image above) with those of the USB Type A and B ports to highlight its greater complexity, and see that the connector can support more functions and offer higher performance. From the 4-pin USB Type-A connector with USB 2.0 support, to the 9-pin Type-A USB connector with USB 3.0 support, to finally get to the 24-pin USB Type-C (two 12 pin groups that guarantee the reversibility mentioned above).
This is an incredibly versatile connector designed to support USB 3.1 specifications, which include, among others, a maximum output of 100W, therefore suitable for product categories such as laptops, which in the past it was unthinkable to charge them with a USB cable – but compatible with the previous USB 2.0 and 3.0, and with Intel’s Thunderbolt 3 interface, as we will discuss later.
In other words, this is an extremely handy connector that now coexists with the large number of devices equipped with the previous types of USB ports and connectors available on the market. A situation that has a direct impact on the connecting cables: with configurations with the USB Type-C connectors on both ends, we’ve got Type A-Type C compatible cables and a large number of adapters.
Plenty of supported features, cables and adapters, as well as specifications, are increasingly approved by the USB IF, which does not always answer to the end user’s doubts. Let’s start by looking at when the first problems start with a consumer starts using USB Type-C devices.
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE CERTIFICATION
The situation gets serious when we realize that not all the cables, adapters and power supplies on the market comply with the USB Type C specifications. It is therefore worth emphasizing the importance of certifications, without losing sight of the central theme of this study, because even when there are cables, adapters, and connectors that meet the right specifications, we won’t always get the desired result from a USB Type-C device.
Products that don’t meet the USB Type-C specifications are simply different from those acknowledged by USB IF, so it’s right to expect that proper operation with certain peripherals can’t be guaranteed. From this point of view, we must admit that the guidelines of the USB Implementers Forum have been clear from the start:
Online stores, retailers and distributors are responsible for ensuring that the products sold through their channels using USB Type-C and USB-C brands conform to the specifications of the USB Type-C cables and connectors.
Retailers do not always mention the conformity of a cable or power supply to the USB Type C specifications, so it’s not always easy to check before buying a product, and it goes beyond the common user skills. The same USB IF meets consumers’ needs by providing a dedicated search engine that, even though not exhaustive, keeps track of certified products that can use the USB IF brands. Particularly useful is the:
List of USB Type-C certified cables
The USB IF clarification work proceeded, in August 2016, with the announcement of a new logo identifying the USB Type-C and USB Power Delivery specifications. The wattage power of the charger is clearly shown under the logo. The USB Forum clarifies:
Certified USB chargers appear as traditional wall chargers or standard chargers, providing quick charging and compatible with USB Type-C products
A certified battery charger is therefore able to support quick charging, but as mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are always two more options: the device (for example, if a smartphone doesn’t support fast charging, the power supply won’t work properly) and the cable (a cable that does not conform to the USB Type-C specifications may not be able to function as expected).
The USB IF logo, identifying the certified battery chargers conforming to USB Type-C and USB Power Delivery specifications
Another recommendation is clear: USB IF invites consumers who are about to buy a USB Type-C device or accessory to:
Purchase USB products that show USB-IF certified logos on the packaging, in the product’s instructions, or on the cable or device itself.
USB IF went even further, with the aim of originally eliminating the risk of using a charger or a cable that does not meet the specifications of a smartphone, endorsing USB Type-C Authentication in Spring 2016 and including such Protocol in the USB Power Delivery 3.0 specification.
This is a cryptographic authentication system that allows the device to verify the compliance of the accessory with the USB Type-C specifications. Current supply, in the case of a charger, is only granted in with products with the right specifications and prohibited with others that do not have these specifications. Also, the protocol operates at the data transfer level, reducing the risk of malware and exploit spread via USB Type-C.
USB Type-C Authentication allows host systems to protect themselves against wrong USB chargers and reduces the risk of hardware or software embedded in USB devices that may exploit the USB connection.
Are consumers safe now, then? Not really, because the adoption of the above-mentioned protocol is at the producers’ discretion. At the same time, it’s useful to point out that the impossibility of using a charger with a USB Type-C terminal may also be (but not limited to) the activation of the USB Type-C Authentication protocol.
THE COMMON MISTAKE: CONNECTOR AND CONNECTION ARE NOT THE SAME THING
Certification is important but insufficient to ensure the perfect interaction between two USB Type-C devices connected by a USB Type-C cable and this is because of an underlying misunderstanding: the confusion between the concepts/protocols of connector and connection. The relationship between connector and connection is the same as between container and content. You can consider the USB Type-C, a “single container” because it’s standardized by the USB Implementers Forum, but the content, that is, what the USB Type-C is capable of transferring, may vary, travel at different speed and may require a cable , an adapter and a suitable device.
If a product is USB Type-C certified, it is unlikely that you’ll have bad surprises. Of course you must be aware of what to expect from the specific cable, connector, and device – so let’s go back to the breakdown between versions and types we talked about at the beginning.
On this point there are useful indications in the guidelines provided by the USB IF, which clearly emphasizes:
USB Type-C is not USB 3.1. The specification of USB Type-C cable and connector is an integration of the USB 3.1 specification, however USB Type-C is not USB 3.1, and these terms are not interchangeable.
USB Type-C is not USB Power Delivery. USB Power Delivery is a protocol/hardware solution that allows increasing capacity to 100W. These terms are not interchangeable
Here’s another important concept:
If a product has a USB Type-C, it does not necessarily provide USB Power Delivery and/or USB 3.1 performances. Device manufacturers can choose to support USB Power Delivery and/or USB 3.1 performances, but that is not required for USB Type-C products
In a nutshell: USB Type-C itself identifies only a connector and a door that can support a number of features: however, individual manufacturers will activate them in the specific device. A recent example is Google Pixel, equipped with a USB Type-C connector, but which can’t support Type-C-HDMI USB adapters for a specific Google business decision (apparently interested in redirecting its users to Chromecast wireless streaming).
In this case, the decision lies on the manufacturers, who have a terminal type (i.e. a smartphone) equipped with a USB Type-C port, and must clearly specify which types of protocols and USB versions are supported, and whether or not it can support fast battery charging, according to USB Power Delivery specifications. These are the relevant information for the end-user, who should not just rely on presence of the USB Type-C connector
Find out more: USB Power Delivery
USB Power Delivery is a USB interface specification that marks a revolution from a simple data transfer interface, and can provide a limited amount of energy, a primary source of power integrated into the data interface. The main features of the USB Power Delivery specification is an increase in power levels up to 100W, compared to the previous USB interfaces.
Another feature introduced by USB Power Delivery is that the delivery direction is no longer fixed but bi-directional: both the host and the device can provide power. This feature also optimize energy management across multiple devices, allowing each one to receive the power necessary and get more power when a particular application makes it necessary.
USB Type-C FAQ
- Are USB Type-C and USB 3.1 the same thing?
No, the first is a connector, while the second a version of the USB specification
- Are USB Type-C and Thunderbolt 3 the same thing?
No, the first is a connector, the second the specifications of the interface created by Intel
- What types of content are passing through the USB Type C interface?
Data, audio and video, power supply (bidirectional), even simultaneously
- Is it necessary just a USB Type-C connection in order to transfer data to the maximum speed of the USB 3.1 interface?
Not necessarily. A USB Type-C product does not necessarily support USB 3.1 specifications. It could support, for example, USB 2.0 specifications.
- Is necessary just a USB Type-C connection to take advantage of the quick battery charging?
Not necessarily. A USB Type-C product does not necessarily support fast battery charging. This function must be supported by the device, and a special power supply must be used
- Does USB Type-C connectors support OTG USB data transfer mode?
Yes, however by itself it doesn’t guarantee the ability to use this feature, which must be supported by the device in the first place.
- Does any device conforming to USB 3.1 specification use USB Type-C connector?
Normally, all USB 3.1 Gen 2 devices use the USB Type-C connector
- Can I use any USB Type-C cable?
It’s advised to use a certified cable that respects the USB Type-C specifications confirmed by the USB IF
- What does it mean to use non-certified Type-C USB cables and adapters?
In some cases you may not be able to take full advantage of all the features of the device, while in some situations you may damage the devices too.
- Do you have security systems that prevent damage to the device when using uncertified Type-C USB cables and chargers?
UBS IF has implemented the USB Type-C Authentication, which blocks accessories that do not conform to specifications, but the protocol must be enabled by the individual manufacturers
Market situation and future developments
The current market situation is still unpredictable. A standardized new type of connector is not the same as the “standardized” adoption of the same. While it is true that the availability of devices with USB Type-C is growing, it’s easy to see that there are terminals, including high end smartphones, which continue to use the previous Micro USB Type-B port. According to the projections by IHS and used by the USB IF, by 2019 the number of devices equipped with Type-C USB connector will be 2 billion.
In September 2016, the USB-IF laid the groundwork for the Type-C USB connector by approving the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specifications. An approval that comes close to Apple’s choice of removing the 3.5mm connector for headphones from the new iPhone, replaced by the Lightning connector (which it owns), and that could have the same effect on other products (smartphones, but also headphones, docking stations and VR devices).
USB audio via USB Type C allows OEMs to remove the 3.5 mm audio jack
Be aware: it should be easy now, at the end of our long study, to distinguish between USB connector/USB port from USB connection/version. The approval of the USB Audio Device Class 3.0 specification will not automatically determine the end of the headphone jack – it’s always up to the manufacturers of electronic devices – and it is not said that each terminal with USB Type-C USB port and any USB cable Type-C will be able to convey the audio signal. Technical assessments will be taken into account, combined with those of a purely commercial nature.
TOO MUCH TALK, LET’S SUMMARIZE
So what should a consumer do to avoid bad surprises when purchasing a USB Type-C device?
Purchase certified USB Type-C products that display the logos approved by the USB IF
Verify the features supported by the product (but don’t ask for quick charging when your smartphone does not support it!)
Do not confuse the USB-Type C connector with the individual interfaces that use it (USB 2.0, 3.0, 3.1, Thunderbolt)
Do not overlook the importance of the cable that connects two Type-C USB devices
Use, if possible, the original accessories provided by the manufacturer