Issue 43 – October 2012
Connectors and interfaces are central to computer and multimedia devices, allowing them to communicate and exchange all forms of data and content. With a total installed base now in excess of 10 billion units, the Universal Serial Bus (USB) is by far and away the most successful interface. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the support organisation and forum for the advancement and adoption of USB technology, facilitates the development of high-quality, compatible devices and promotes the benefits of USB and other products that have passed compliance testing. The IEC has just endorsed four of its specifications.
For professional and consumer devices alike
Journalist Anli Serfontein remembers being on the road 2 decades ago when the plethora of cables and connectors required to attach her laptop to the chargers, printers, cameras, recording, and other devices she needed fought for space on her computer.
'These days,' she says, 'there is little doubt that USB is the most successful personal computer interface. I work with laptops, using both Microsoft and Apple operating systems, and I can connect seamlessly my mouse, printer, chargers, cameras, detachable hard drives, and other devices to both computers using the USB 2.0 interface,' says Serfontein.
First introduced in the mid-1990s, the USB interface is now present in almost all professional and consumer computer and multimedia devices, such as TV sets, set-top boxes, mobile phones, and portable entertainment systems. It has evolved and continues to do so, with higher transfer rates, new connectors, and the ability to attach an increasing range of different devices.
IEC endorses USB
The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) and US-based USB-IF have announced IEC's endorsement of four USB-IF specifications to facilitate global Standards and interoperability for data transfer and charging.
These are the Hi-Speed USB (USB 2.0) specification, USB Cables and Connectors specification 2.0, USB Battery Charging specification 1.2, and Micro-USB Cables and Connectors specification 1.01, which are used by billions of electronic devices.
IEC technical committee (TC) 100 prepares international Standards for audio, video, and multimedia systems and equipment. Its technical area (TA) 14 prepares Standards for the interfaces and measurement methods for personal computing systems, equipment, and other multimedia products.
IEC recognition will help trade, WTO rules
Recognition by the IEC is important for manufacturers and users, says USB-IF President and Chief Operating Officer, Jeff Ravencraft. 'Worldwide recognition from the IEC helps further advance USB-IF's world-wide position in data transfer and charging. In addition to current joint efforts, IEC and USB-IF will continue to collaborate to promote the adoption of USB specifications within the IEC,' he told IEC's e-tech.
Shuichi Matsumura, Technical Area Manager of TA 14 and senior expert in the Standards Strategy Office of Fujitsu Limited's Intellectual Property Unit, highlights the scope and importance of the TA's work. 'It is not only for PCs, but it includes many other multimedia products. Adoption of the Standard is good because under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules, countries can't put up barriers on IEC-endorsed products.'
Most WTO member states rely on IEC Standards as the technical basis of their laws and regulations for electronic and electrical devices and systems.
IEC TC 100 and USB-IF objectives
Matsumura says there are many de facto standards in PC products. 'From the IEC perspective, TA14 tries to change the customers' lifestyles and make them happy with PC Standards. So it is good that people know about this protocol.'
He adds, 'Today, so many products use the USB 2.0 interface. For instance, my PC at home, the laptop I purchased 3 years ago, has a USB 2.0 interface. I use a mouse, a Web camera, and an external hard drive, so I use USB 2.0 interfaces every day'.
'IEC TC 100 standardisation work has two major objectives,' notes Matsumura. 'The first is to enrich people's lives with entertainment provided by audio, video, and multimedia in their homes and networked environments. The second is to contribute to society by pursuing energy efficiency and by addressing options for accessibility in the use of audio, video, and multimedia equipment.'
As for USB-IF work, Ravencraft says: 'it helps educate people about USB technology and promote it with the goal of facilitating the development of high-quality USB products through a logo licensing and compliance programme'. A product has to be certified to use the logo of the USB-IF, which is an international organisation.
Phenomenal interface and global success
'The USB is the most successful interface in the history of personal computing,' says Ravencraft. 'It has migrated virtually 100%, not only into PCs but into almost all consumer electronic devices. All consumers expect to be able to charge their device over USB. You can charge almost any device over USB. There are over 10 billion USB products in the installed base today. The industry is shipping in excess of three billion USB products every year, including 1 billion plus cell phones and more than 150 million USB flash drives. It is a phenomenal interface.'
'It is supported on every operating system, increasingly present in cars and embedded systems and in virtually every consumer electronic device that is manufactured today', notes Ravencraft.
Ever since USB was introduced in the mid-1990s its Standards have evolved and continue to do so, particularly with regard to transfer rates. The latest iteration, USB 3.0 (SuperSpeed USB), will bring major improvements to USB; including a maximum data transfer rate 10 times that of USB 2.0.
'Last year the industry shipped just under 80 million SuperSpeed USB products. This year the industry at large is going to ship just under half a billion of these. Next year it jumps to just under a billion SuperSpeed USB products,' says Ravencraft, adding, 'There isn't any technology that puts out numbers like these, where you go from 77 million to a billion in two years. We are going to bring new features and enhance USB.'
The IEC endorsement opens up new opportunities for USB, as many organisations rely on IEC Standards for procurement. It also extends the remit of IEC Standards for a wide range of USB applications.
Endorsement benefits industry and users
Ravencraft says the endorsement of the USB 2.0 protocol 'benefits manufacturers and consumers by broadening support and recognition of USB Standards'. He cites USB products such as the micro-USB used for charging, which helps reduce mobile phone-related electronic waste.
'USB delivers effortless audio and video streaming, music, and photos to your home office, car, and anywhere in between,' says Ravencraft. 'Manufacturers and consumers worldwide benefit from USB Standards.'
Note: You can order IEC Standards from www.standards.co.nz or call 0800 782 632 during business hours or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Members of Standards New Zealand receive a 20% discount on all NZS and AS/NZS Standards, and a 10% discount on all international Standards. Visit our membership page for more information.Summarised from IEC's e-tech, August/September 2012.