Smartphones, tablets to recharge quicker with USB 3.0 cables, connectors

Micro-USB 3.0 ports in smartphones and tablets will carry more power to enable faster recharges

Upcoming smartphones and tablets will charge much more quickly with new micro-USB 3.0 ports, the USB standards-setting organization said on Tuesday.

A majority of smartphones and tablets today are charged via micro-USB ports, with a cable connected from the device to a docking station, laptop or power outlet. The micro-USB 3.0 cable can carry more power over a cable than its predecessor can, which will lead to mobile devices recharging much faster than in the past, said Jeff Ravencraft, president and chief operating officer at the USB Implementer's Forum, which sets the USB standards.

The new USB connector cables will supply more voltage and current and will be able to deliver power up to 100 watts, Ravencraft said. The Power Delivery specification that makes this possible was added to the USB 3.0 specification in July.

"Yes, smartphones and tablets will charge faster using a Power Delivery source," Ravencraft said. "The improvements with Power Delivery are huge over what is currently capable today. We're going from a maximum of 7.5 watts to almost 100 watts."

Smartphones and tablets will utilize USB 3.0 starting later this year, using either micro-USB or full-sized USB ports, Ravencraft said. PC makers have already shown tablets with full-sized USB 3.0 ports, but devices with micro-USB 3.0 are few and far between. Chip makers such as Samsung are also adding USB 3.0 support on their upcoming mobile chips so smartphones and tablets can carry either a full-sized or micro-USB port.

"What USB 3.0 connector form factor the OEM uses is up to them, but it would likely be a micro-USB 3.0 connection" on low-power devices such as smartphones and tablets, Ravencraft said.

The new USB 3.0 specification also enables connectors to deliver data at faster rates, so mobile devices will be able to move data at a faster pace to PCs or other peripheral devices. The USB 3.0 specification transfers data at 5Gbps (bits per second), which is more than 10 times faster than the previous USB 2.0 specification.

"This [Power Delivery] specification was developed to provide a source of power for higher-performing devices, while simultaneously transferring data over USB," Ravencraft said.

The new connector technology also has a new audio and video specification that could enable new docking products, according to USB-IF. That could allow smartphones, tablets and laptops to use only one cable for charging and for communicating with other peripherals, including displays and entertainment and storage devices.

But transferring data at higher speeds requires more power, and whether high data transfer speeds can be applied to mobile devices remains to be seen. Mobile devices are usually limited on power consumption, which could limit the data transfer rates. Mobile devices can draw power from host devices, which could enable high-speed data transfers, USB-IF said. The connection speed will ultimately be dictated by the device makers depending on whether a device is connecting to a hard drive, solid-state drive or other peripherals.

USB 3.0 is backward compatible and supports older forms of the connector technology including USB 2.0, which is already being widely used on PCs.

USB 3.0 competes with Apple and Intel's Thunderbolt connector technology, which is already available on PCs and external storage devices. Intel has said it wants to push Thunderbolt to mobile devices.

Thunderbolt is faster than USB 3.0, transferring data at 10 Gbps (bits per second). Intel and USB-IF say USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt can co-exist, and many laptops have both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports. But it remains to be seen whether both Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 ports can be squeezed into the smaller smartphones and tablets.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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