USB transfer rates could rival Thunderbolt before long

The USB standards-setting organization has simulated transfer speeds of 20Gbps

Rendering of USB 3.1 Type-C connector (3)

Rendering of USB 3.1 Type-C connector (3)

Although data transfer rates on USB will double in the coming months, a standards-setting organization is researching ways to double that speed to 20Gbps.

The USB Implementers Forum is finalizing the USB 3.1 specification, which will transfer data at 10Gbps, but the organization has also simulated speeds of 20Gbps, which would put USB in the same league as Thunderbolt 2 connector technology developed by Intel and Apple. USB is widely used to transfer data between devices and to charge electronics.

"Over the copper wire we're already at 10, we know we can grow the performance," said Jeff Ravencraft, chairman of USB-IF, in an interview on the sidelines of the Computex trade show in Taipei.

For now USB 3.1 is sufficient and there is no hurry to ratchet up the speed, Ravencraft said.

But USB speed improvements on USB are not being ignored, with related research and simulations ongoing for faster data over copper wires, said Rahman Ismail, chief technology officer at the USB-IF.

"Our protocol can scale, we believe our connectors will scale," Ismail said.

More than 4 billion products with USB ports are expected to ship this year and that number will hit 5 billion in coming years. Maintaining USB's ubiquity and making the technology less expensive to implement are priorities of the USB-IF. Despite blazing data transfer speeds, the adoption of Intel's Thunderbolt has suffered because ports and cables are expensive.

There is also considerable excitement around the redesigned USB Type C connector, in which both ends are the same. The connector, which will apply to all major USB standards, reduces user confusion over plug orientation and fitting that are associated with current cables, with each end having different connectors.

Devices will ship with smaller ports for Type-C connector cables by the end of the year, Ravencraft said. Considering its advantages, Type-C could ultimately dominate, but that is for the market to decide, Ravencraft said.

The USB-IF also wants to make USB the charger of choice for PCs, mobile devices, TVs and even home appliances. The Power Delivery specification on the current USB 3.0 is capable of delivering 100 watts of power, which is good enough to power HDTVs.

"In the future, you might have a refrigerator powered by USB," Ravencraft said.

A common charger for all devices is convenient for consumers and also better for the environment, Ravencraft said.

"One of the key things of charging is eliminating this electronic waste," Ravencraft said. "These landfills are filling up with custom chargers."

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

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Agam Shah

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