USB-C Pervasiveness Means Less E-Waste

Article By : Gary Hilson

Speed still matters, but power is driving USB-C adoption for many applications

TORONTO – AC/DC is great to rock out to, but if you want a real charge all the cool kids are into USB-C.

The connectivity standard that simultaneously powers devices is quickly becoming the Swiss Army knife of electronics connectors. Not only is it moving data back and forth from devices it powers but even securing the data. In a telephone interview with EE Times, Ganesh Subramaniam, senior director of USB product lines at Cypress Semiconductor, said USB-C is going to become “the single connector that you’ll see attached to almost everything,” even electric razors and power tools.

The company recently introduced the EZ-PD Power Adapter Generation 1 (PAG1), the latest member of its USB-C Power Delivery family. PAG1 delivers AC/DC power using an integrated USB Power Delivery (PD) controller. Subramaniam said it will enable OEMs to build reliable, efficient, and cost-effective power adapters for the growing USB-C charger market. Because PAG1 is fully programmable, OEMs will benefit from a better reliability and a reduced bill of materials. They will also be able to configure their USB charger offerings for many common charging standards, including Apple Charging and Samsung adaptive fast charging (AFC).

Historically, data transfer rates have been the bigger driver for USB evolution — no one wants to wait hours for their videos or photos to transfer from their smartphone to their computer. However, according to Subramaniam, power is the single biggest driver for USB-C today. For Cypress, it’s the company’s first time entering the AC/DC controller space, but it sees heavy adoption ahead for power-related USB applications. “Most of the U.S. auto makers are already putting USB-C in their cars,” said Subramaniam. Not only do people want to quickly charge their cellphones in their vehicle, but other devices as well, which means 15 watts is no longer enough — automotive USB will have to push 100 watts.

Cypress Semiconductor recently introduced the EZ-PD Power Adapter Generation 1 (PAG1), the latest member of its USB-C Power Delivery family. The company anticipates a future where a swath of custom power chargers will be replaced by USB-C. (Source: Cypress Semiconductor)

There’s also a positive environmental side effect to the coming USB-C ubiquity — the demise of custom power chargers that look like they should fit into any device, but only work with the device with which they were sold. Subramaniam said it will be increasingly common to use USB-C ports in electrical outlets — you’ll be able to plug in your smartphone to charge it without needing a power adapter. “It’s savings for the manufacturer, which means you have fewer chargers purchased, which means a lot less e-waste,” said Subramaniam.

In addition to being better for the planet, USB-C is also becoming more secure. At the beginning of the year, the USB-FI announced an authentication program that includes an optional USB security protocol and authentication specification. “It can literally authenticate any device,” said USB-IF president Jeff Ravencraft, whether it’s a PC host, traditional desktop, or laptop, a tablet, a phone.

The security protocol was developed based on feedback from host manufacturers. According to Ravencraft, “What it does is enable host systems to protect against mitigating risks against non-compliant USB chargers, devices, and cables, as well as maliciously embedded hardware and software from any USB device attempting to exploit a USB connection on the host.” In simpler terms, it means you can let your friend charge their smartphone by plugging it into your computer, but the inherent USB-C security won’t let it do anything else, such as transfer data or possibly infect your PC with malware.

At a broader scale, said Ravencraft, companies will develop their own policies on how they want to manage USB-C devices based upon their capability to authenticate and deploy accordingly. The security feature does require new hardware and software in the device and the host, and although it’s not a requirement for USB-IF certification, he expects this authentication adoption to ramp up this year.

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