New USB Connector Hits Homerun; Adds Features, Simplifies Use, and With Proper Controller, Eliminates Potential Voltage Incompatibilities

New USB Connector Hits Homerun; Adds Features, Simplifies Use, and With Proper Controller, Eliminates Potential Voltage Incompatibilities


USB Type-C™ is a new physical connector defined in August 2014, and aimed at replacing existing USB connectors over time. The new connector offers significant new features and functions that will change end-user’s habits that today reflect mostly charging smartphones and tablets, while simplifying connectivity to power objects or transmit data or video over a single cable. It is also an opportunity for new entrants to introduce innovative products.

by Benoit FORET, STMicroelectronics | March 2016

Fig 1_half cable

Figure 1:

New USB Type-C connector has rounded edges and is completely reversible (top/bottom), making it trivially easy to use.


The new USB Type-C™ connector offers a range of benefits. Figure 1 and 2. It is mechanically 10 times more robust than existing ones. It is also reversible (top/bottom) and identical on both ends of the cable. Figure 3. In other words, the cable is trivially simple to plug in. Obviously, it supports the latest generation of USB 3.0 and 3.1 communication protocols, and it is backward compatible with USB 2.0. USB Type-C™ introduces an optional dedicated 5V connector supply (VCONN) in order to support active cables (i.e. cables with Integrated Circuits inside the plug). But the true “re-evolution” of USB Type-C™ is the support of the USB Power Delivery specification. Although optional, USB-PD offers breakthrough features, including increased and scalable power up to 100W, and uniquely, it offers this power bi-directionally.

Fig 2_receptacle

Figure 2:

The application-side receptacle for USB Type-C connectors is backward compatible with both USB 3 and USB 2 connectors.


And because innovation often encourages further innovation, USB Type-C™ allows a USB connector to also be re-purposed to another electrically compatible communication protocol, for the 1st time. This feature is called Alternate Mode and enables the introduction of proprietary protocols over USB as well as well-known standard protocols such as MHL™ and Display Port™, among others. The USB Type-C™ connector also implements dedicated audio, accessory or debug modes, and authentication support will follow by the end of 2016.


Fig 3_full cable

Figure 3:

USB Type-C cables are reversible, ports are significantly slimmer than legacy USB ports, and the specification supports data transfer speeds as high as 10 Gbps.

With so many new features, mixing all domains of electronics design – from high power to audio, high-bandwidth communication to encrypted data, the USB Type-C™ standard that was originally specified to simplify connectivity for end-user is likely to cause sleepless nights to Hardware and Software designers. They have to determine how to migrate from Standard-A or micro-B to Type-C connectors. They need to decide what is the minimal set of features to comply with. They need to figure out how to get their product certified at the end of the day.

One solution is to adopt a USB Type-C™ companion chip. Working with any MCU on the market through a simple I²C interface, USB Type-C™ companion chips such as the STUSB16 (Figure 4) from STMicroelectronics offer a robust and straightforward solution to comply with the standard, while minimizing complex implementation issues and ensuring secure protection against non-compliant or defective accessories or high-power AC adaptors.

Fig 4_block diagram

Figure 4:

The STUSB16, manufactured on ST’s 20V process technology, minimizes implementation issues and protects against non-compliant or defective accessories.

Manufactured using ST’s 20V process technology, the STUSB16 controller IC integrates short-circuit, over-voltage, over-current protection to eliminate the need for external circuitry. Additionally, it offers plug power support (VCONN) with up to 600mA programmable current capability and, per the USB Power Delivery specification and integrates the Bi-Phase Mark Coded (BMC) Physical Layer (PHY) coding and decoding logic.

Integration of such features in a single-chip Type-C controller enables fast migration to USB type-C, while minimizing MCU-resource requirements compared to alternate solutions. Together these features simplify software development and reduce time-to-market while allowing ST customers to focus on their own added-value differentiators.