Makers of USB 3.0 connectors and cable assemblies are increasing output to meet transmission requirements in latest electronics devices.
Rising demand for faster transmission rates that match current-generation electronics is encouraging USB connectors and cable assembly suppliers in China to migrate to the 3.0 standard. Output of interconnects based on this protocol will steadily climb even as USB 2.0 remains dominant.
From a few releases in 2008, more companies have achieved mass production status in the USB 3.0 line last year. At present, the sector takes up between 20 and 50 percent of most makers’ aggregate USB supply. Overall, the country’s output rose more than 20 percent in a trend that is expected to continue throughout 2011.
Elbac Electronic (Dongguan) Co. Ltd began USB 3.0 cable assembly manufacture in 2009 with a monthly yield of 1,000 units. It plans to raise this to 10,000, and eventually allocate 50 percent or higher of total turnout for the category from the current 10 percent share. The enterprise is looking to export half of production to the US, Europe and Southeast Asia.
Viewcon Electronics Co. Ltd, which forecasts more orders in coming months, expects over 20 percent upswing in sales this year.
Shenzhen Sijinxin Electronic Technology Co. Ltd began offering USB 3.0 cable assemblies in late 2009. It has a monthly output of 50,000 units, which account for 30 percent of the company’s overall USB yield. This year, the supplier plans to raise the proportion to 50 percent or higher depending on inquiries from home and abroad.
USB 3.0 boasts 5Gbps, which could be upgraded to 20Gbps. It can carry a power load of 150 to 900mA, greater by 80 percent than 2.0 and ensuring faster charging than the latter. Further, SuperSpeed USB has a minimum operating voltage of 4V, which saves more energy. It also incorporates standby, sleep and wait modes, resulting in lower power dissipation.
These advantages have made USB 3.0 popular in high-end computers and peripherals, including external HDDs, displays and PC cameras. With Windows Vista and 7 and Linux 2.6.31 supporting the standard, more compatible devices are entering the global market.
SuperSpeed USB will also see increased demand from other sectors, including home entertainment and A/V equipment such as video monitors and recorders, digital cameras and Blu-ray players. According to In-Stat, USB-enabled devices will post a CAGR of 7 percent annually from 2008 to 2013, with output of USB 3.0 hardware hitting 1 billion units or 25 percent of the total USB sector.
Large-scale adoption, however, is at least two years away. Microsoft began promoting the standard in phases only last year. Reports indicate Apple will not install the interface in its Macs in the short term. Rival technologies such as the company’s Light Peak are also emerging to challenge USB’s dominance.
The comparatively high price of USB 3.0-enabled devices is also slowing market penetration. Units are about two or three times more expensive than USB 2.0 rivals.
There are three types of connectors: standard A, standard B and micro, with the first dominating supply for their backward compatibility attributes. Across the different variants, buyers can find male or female configurations with nine pins and either nickel or gold plating.
Four of the nine pins have the same shape and specifications as those of USB 2.0, while the rest are specially designed for SuperSpeed USB. This structure ensures a seamless transition from one version to the next without extra costs for end-users.
As in most high-end connectors and cable assemblies, the bulk of output comes from foreign-owned suppliers based in China.
Companies can use their current manufacturing and test equipment to turn out USB 3.0 connectors or introduce advanced machines as required.
Most also make cable assemblies in-house, so part of their connectors stock goes into their own products, a trend that will continue through 2012.
In the USB 3.0 cable assembly segment, enterprises use eight wires for the cables, twice as many required by 2.0, to support high transmission speeds. Four are used for power supply, earthing and data transmission, and the rest receive and send signals. The additional wires have helped USB 3.0 realize 10 times the data rate of 2.0 variants, although integrating them has made the cable too rigid for wiring. Some makers replace current twisted pair configurations with optical fiber.
Mainstream products from China have standard A connectors, 28 or 30AWG wires, a PVC jacket and 1 or 2m cables. The length can be modified according to buyers’ requirements. The outer diameter is typically 5.5mm. Most units comply with RoHS specifications.
The maximum cable length at present is 3m to prevent signal quality from attenuating. Makers expect this limitation to be addressed once the product becomes more widely adopted.
Unlike in the connectors line, the country’s supply in this segment is from both local and foreign-owned entities, with the former taking up 70 percent of the total. Shenzhen Sijinxin churns out USB 3.0 cable assemblies with all three connector types, although those with standard A plugs have a more than 60 percent share of the yield.
Most enterprises source raw materials locally. Some also purchase inputs such as PVC from overseas providers depending on customers’ specifications. Although requirement supply is stable, cost variations are making it difficult for companies to set fixed quotes. Copper, for instance, accounts for over half of production outlay, and changes in values affect pricing.
USB 3.0 cables are currently five times more expensive than their 2.0 counterparts. To keep clients, most suppliers maintained steady quotes in the past year.
Mass manufacture worldwide is expected to initiate a 5 to 10 percent drop in 2011-12.
PC requirements drive 60 percent of worldwide shipments of USB connectors and cable assemblies. These products, which constitute computers, external HDDs, high-definition webcams and card readers, are generally equipped with one or more ports. Besides such devices, USB 3.0 is expected to penetrate the disk array systems.
The Micro-USB interface has a huge market in mobile phones. In 2009, the GSM Association and 17 international phone manufacturers announced it as the general charger interface for handsets. Beginning January 2012, all cell phones are expected to be compliant with the standard. China made similar moves for the Mini-USB as early as 2007.
Consumer electronics comprise another key application base, with USB connectors and cable assemblies for digital cameras and video recorders, Blu-ray players and game consoles proliferating. Higher-quality images, videos and games require a larger storage space and faster transmission speeds, which USB 3.0 can support. According to NEC of Japan, copying a 25GB video file from a Blu-ray disc to a computer HDD takes 14 minutes using USB 2.0 but only 70 seconds via the former.
The biggest challenge to the line at present is competition from HDMI 1.4 and DisplayPort 1.2. Most suppliers agree new PCs and peripherals will incorporate both USB and DisplayPort.
DisplayPort 1.2 delivers up to 21.6Gbps, Ethernet and bidirectional data transmission, full high-definition 3D display and improved audio technology. The protocol currently enjoys wide application in computers and peripherals. Apple’s latest MacBook products have a Mini DisplayPort 1.2 interface.
HDMI 1.4 supports Ethernet, audio return channel, 3D imaging, HD 4096x2160, a Micro HDMI interface and a connector for automotive applications. It is a popular A/V interface for portable media and DVD players, laptops, HDTVs, set-top boxes, gaming consoles and other home entertainment systems.
The digital standard’s type D connector is also employed in portable electronics such as mobile phones. This presents competition for the Micro-USB 3.0, although the rivalry is not expected to intensify until both reach wider adoption in five years.
Meanwhile, Wireless USB can connect PCs to peripherals and consumer electronics without cables within the home at a maximum distance of 10m and a low power dissipation of 300mW. The last can reach 100mW. The technology supports a 480Mbps bandwidth and may be upgraded to 1Gbps. While the cable-free technology poses competition to USB 2.0 in household applications, it is not expected to deliver high transmission speeds fast enough to rival USB 3.0.
Hong Kong’s supply of USB 3.0 connectors and cable assemblies has significantly improved in the past 12 months, with at least 50 percent of USB product manufacturers releasing compliant devices. Selections, however, remain limited to five models per company as makers wait for demand to climb before joining the bandwagon. Nevertheless, the base units can be modified and customized according to buyers’ requirements as many enterprises accept OEM and ODM projects.
Several computer accessory specialists also offer USB 3.0 cable assemblies. Their selections likewise comprise USB 3.0-to-SATA/eSATA adapters, internal or external controller cards, external HDDs and solid state disks.
Hong Kong has few specialists in the connectors segment, which is still dominated by A/V types. The growing lineup of USB variants includes board-mounted sockets, with plugs for cable assemblies increasingly being added. Some suppliers can develop connector blocks combining USB sockets with A/V connectors and terminals.
Tai Chung Electronic Component Parts Co. Ltd has 35 years of experience providing power sockets, phone jacks and other connectors. Its range of USB 3.0 connectors covers single, double and triple type A female DIPs, type A SMT male plugs, type B male plugs and type B female sockets.
Sow Industrial Ltd has assorted cable and PCB assemblies, connectors and switches. It can customize products to clients’ requirements. Besides USB 2.0 connectors and cable assemblies, the company offers type B female straight and right-angle DIP, and types A and B male solder USB connectors.
Jesmay Electronics Co. Ltd is a major provider of computer and A/V cables, CATV/SMATV equipment, security systems and home wireless A/V systems. It has recently added USB 3.0 cables with molded plugs to its collection of USB cables and accessories.
USB 3.0 cable assemblies from Taiwan comprise standard, mini and micro A and B in female and male types with lengths of 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5m. Buyers can specify the materials and cable length.
As for connectors, makers offer OEM services for systems integrators with customized design requirements. More compact profiles and finer pitch are the two major directions as suppliers match the minimalist trend in computer, communications and consumer electronics products. For PCB variants, SMT, DIP and through-hole soldering are the typical mounting methods.
Gold and nickel are the popular plating materials for connectors for their strong electric conductivity and plug durability, although tin-lead and silver are also used. For cable coating, makers generally adopt PBT, LCP, nylon and PPS to leverage the inputs’ high density and rigidity, moldability, and resistance to wear, heat and solvents. Most PBT comes from domestic vendors, while LCP, nylon and PPS are imported. PVC insulation is typically utilized for the jackets, but environmental concerns have given rise to halogen-free cables.
Companies expect SuperSpeed USB to replace USB 2.0 in the months ahead, especially with Intel’s release of the Sandy Bridge microarchitecture. An increasing number of PC peripherals support the former standard, with portable storage devices such as external HDDs and flash drives as the fastest growing applications. The laptop is also emerging as a driving force. By 2013, the protocol will be widely used in MP3 players, LCD monitors, Blu-ray and DVD players, and digital cameras as well.
Production value in the connectors line hit $5.3 billion last year based on data from the Ministry of Economic Affairs. Although competition is intensifying, the line is mature with a stable growth rate. To sustain robust sales, local suppliers are strengthening development and cost-reduction capability by employing joint-design manufacturing solutions. Some are moving factories to mainland China for entry-level and midrange models to preserve low-pricing strategies.
Note:This article was originally published by Global Sources, a leading business-to-business media company and a primary facilitator of trade with China manufacturers and India suppliers, providing essential sourcing information to volume buyers through our e-magazines, trade shows and industry research.
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