“The USB 4 standard is set to increase maximum USB data transmission speed to 40Gbps, hence effectively bringing Thunderbolt 3 to more devices.”
Just last week, the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) took to the stage at Mobile World Congress 2019 to announce the latest generation USB 3.2 standard with added throughput. Now, the body has announced USB 4, the next generation solution of open source, royalty-free data transfer interface standard. The future standard of universal connector interfaces will take over the mantle of high transfer speeds and other benefits from USB 3.2 Gen 2×2, which is indeed a rather puzzling name for a universal data interface.
Either way, USB 4 will be here to stay, and its official specification will be published later this year. This means, that devices willing to incorporate USB 4 ports will begin cropping up everywhere by end-2020 or early 2021, and we expect to see them in pretty much every device. However, this also entails a bunch of other factors. For one, the advent of USB 4 will officially ring the end of life for USB-A (or “full-size USB” ports), the golden connectivity standard that has nobly served as a worldwide medium.
USB 4, as we have learned, will be available exclusively to USB-C ports, which should anyway be hitting pretty much every device by 2021. Furthermore, it also matches specifications with the proprietary Thunderbolt 3 standard, the specification of which has now been made open source for any OEM to implement. With this standard, USB 4 will be capable of 100W power delivery, ample bandwidth to support external, full-form graphics cards, and either two 4K displays or one 5K display.
While that is great, USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3 are expected to exist simultaneously. With USB being an open source interface that is used by innumerable companies across the world, it is impossible for the USB-IF to certify each and every device rolled out with the USB 4 interface. Thunderbolt 3, meanwhile, is exclusively certified and supported by Intel, including a host of compatibility and safety features, and since it is used in more limited frequencies, it will continue to be a more closed medium.
The USB-IF, however, is attempting to simplify the implementation of the USB standard by planning to offer a list of features that every USB 4 interface must include. While that will help the average customer get a standard idea of what features to expect of a device that uses the USB 4 standard and avoid any confusion, the bane here is USB’s open-for-all nature, which makes it impossible for the body to govern a company if it does not follow the said features list.
Nevertheless, the USB 4 standard is expected to take over the mantle from USB 3.1 and 3.2’s latest generations by 2021. Being USB-C based, the new USB standard will not get the colour coding that USB-A implemented with USB 3. This raises the prospect of more confusion in terms of how to identify ports and cables, although a workaround to this should not prove to be too difficult.