Next-gen USB promises to be twice as fast, using cables you may already own

The next version of USB might be one of the fastest connectors we’ve ever seen. The USB Promoter Group claims that USB 4 version 2 will be capable of speeds of up to 80 Gbps, double the original USB 4and even Thunderbolt 4are capable of.

The actual technical specification from the USB Implementers Forum, which is in charge of the standard itself, has yet to be released, but the details released today are a bit startling. The developer group writes in a press release that USB 4 version 2 cables will use the USB-C connector, which is to be expected, but the real bombshell is this line: “Key features of the updated USB4 solution include: Up to 80 Gbps operation, based on a new physical layer architecture, using existing Newly defined 40 Gbps USB Type-C passive cables and 80 Gbps USB Type-C active cables” (emphasis added).

Joe Balich, a USB-IF spokesperson, confirmed that if I were to go out and buy a usb 4 cable now which was rated for 40 Gbps, it would be able to do twice those speeds in the future. It is frankly extremely impressive. USB has always been good at backwards compatibility (and USB 4 version 2 is no exception), but being able to use the same cable and still get the headline benefit of the new spec is another level.

Balich did not explain how this was technically possible, but said that “this advantage became a requirement when the new specification was developed and details on how 80 Gbps signaling is achieved will be disclosed once the final published specification”. This will apparently be before the USB DevDays developer events scheduled for November 1-2 in Seattle and November 15-16 in Seoul.

According to the USB Promoter Group, made up of companies like Intel, Apple, Microsoft, HP and Texas Instruments, USB-C and power specifications will be updated to “enable this higher level of data performance.” The USB 4 version 2 specification will also apparently include updates that deliver better speeds when using USB 3.2 – promoter group promises more 20 Gbps – as well as improved DisplayPort and PCIe support since it will use the latest version of those standards (the first USB 4 only lets you use DisplayPort 1.4a when “tunneling” or transporting signals DisplayPort and USB at the same time).

Finally, however, we have to talk about the name. It’s an odd decision to label this as just “version 2” of USB 4 when the jump in speed really makes it feel like it deserves to be called USB 5. The standard has been confusing for a few years now – USB 3.2 is actually a few different standards: USB 3.2 Gen 1 (AKA original USB 3.0), USB 3.2 Gen 2, USB 3.2 Gen 1×2 and USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (which is the full 20 Gbps specification). USB 4 sort of simplified this because it had essentially the same specs and capabilities as Thunderbolt 3, but now it looks like we’re back to a slightly more confusing naming scheme – cable compatibility could definitely help, but I can definitely see device spec sheets being a bit of a minefield for a while.

Not that we’ll probably have to deal with it anytime soon. The press release says the update is “developer-specific at this time,” with final branding and marketing guides (including things like logos) coming later. Still, it’s exciting to see what’s in the works, and to imagine being able to transfer a 4K Blu-ray’s worth of data in about five seconds.

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