Gavin Williams, Sales & Marketing Director at Hamilton Litestat, discusses what new EU regulations around USB charging devices will mean for the contractor and how some of the latest solutions can keep customers ahead of the curve.
The demand for faster charging of devices has led us to new USB standards, and with it an increased requirement for fitting sockets with USB charging capabilities. However, popularity is now set to rocket because of changing EU regulations. In a move to reduce electrical waste, battery-powered devices will no longer include a standard white block plug-in charger.
We all have those drawers full of odds and ends, and one item that’s sure to have a home there is the block plug-in USB charger. Until now, they’ve come as standard with battery devices that need charging, so in fact most people normally have a lot more than one laying around. Eventually, when the drawer gets full, they end up as e-waste.
In a move to reduce the impact on the environment the European Union is trying to stop manufacturers from providing one of these with every device and move towards a standard USB-type charging connector instead. One of the first brands to make this change is Apple, which won’t be providing a charging unit with the recently revealed iPhone 12.
But what does this mean for customers and contractors? An increased demand for USB charging ports is anticipated, both for commercial and residential properties. But not all USB connectors were created equal – there are both USB Type A and USB Type C ports. What’s the difference?
USB-A vs USB-C
We may think we know the USB connector as most electronic devices such as laptops and computers will have a USB port, but more specifically this is USB Type A, or USB-A as it’s increasingly being known. This has a reasonably large physical connector and can only be inserted into a port in one orientation. This requires a USB 2.0 connection for charging, which offers up to 2.5W and will charge your smart phone overnight at a reasonably slow and steady pace.
However, a new standard that enables significantly faster charging is on the horizon – the USB Type C, or USB-C. Unlike USB-A, USB-C has the same connector pins on either side, so can be inserted into a charging point either way up and is physically much smaller than the USB-A variety.
More importantly, it supports new USB standards, such as USB 3.1 and USB PD (Power Delivery). USB 3.1 facilitates extremely fast data transfer of up to 10 Gbps, while USB PD enables power transfer of 100W for rapid charging. Not only can a device receive this increased power, but as it’s bidirectional it can also send power, too.
Unlike the early days of mobile phones where each brand had its own unique charging cable, USB-C is set to become standard across new technologies. As mentioned, Apple has done away with the charging block and adopted the USB-C standard for its upcoming products, as have more than 700 technology companies including Dell, Google, HP, Intel, Microsoft, and Samsung.
To meet the demand of the new standard while also supporting the charging of legacy devices, companies manufacturing electrical wiring accessories, such as Hamilton Litestat, are producing sockets with combined USB-A and USB-C charging ports. These allow existing devices to be charged, but ensure functionality is pre-emptively installed for the next wave in technological development. And it’s these solutions that provide a business opportunity for today’s electrician to stay ahead of demand.
Hamilton’s USB ports are clearly labelled with the rated current or rated power values, as per BS EN 62368 Annex F (Markings). Tests also confirmed that there’s no issue with power sharing between sockets when charging: if two devices are plugged in then they’re both getting the correct and equal charge, rather than one taking additional power. However, currently (and with no pun intended) there are restrictions on the charging capability from a 13A socket. Faster charging needs more power, more rapidly.
To enable this, a larger charging module is required on the back on the socket. At present, this isn’t possible due to the unit needing to be packaged within the restrictions of the standard 47mm deep back box. But as USB-C becomes standard, USB-A ports will become redundant and this will free up space in the unit for larger charging modules that can deliver the power USB-C is capable of receiving.
In the meantime, it’s possible to install a Euro Module that will deliver a higher rate of charge. Hamilton has recently launched a 45W Type C / 18W Type A Euro Module. This isn’t a 13A socket outlet, but a combination plate designed to deliver additional power that can support higher capacity devices. It is a standard 50 x 50 unit and is ideal for charging high performance devices, such as the new MacBook Pro.
Offering both USB standards, when a device is plugged into the Euro Module it will negotiate the power output with the charger. For instance, if it’s plugged into the Type C port then it will accept the full 45W on offer, or will let the charger know if it requires less. The current and the voltage will adjust to enable optimum charging.
The same applies to the 18W Type A socket, however, for the benefit of customers, Hamilton has adopted different labelling on this device. Instead of communicating the current and voltage, it aligns the labels with the device manufacturer protocols. The USB-C is labelled with PD (Power Delivery) and the USB-A with QC (Quick Charge).
A thirsty device that benefits from the Euro Module is the iPad Pro. When plugged into a USB-C port in a standard 13A socket, the iPad Pro is effectively on trickle charge – it’s not able to get the power required for a proper charge as the socket isn’t fit for this purpose. However, when plugged into the Euro Module it can increase its charge and power up effectively.
For contractors looking to offer future-proof wiring accessories to their clients, Hamilton’s USB charging products provide transitional solutions. Its sockets with both USB-A and USB-C ports provide charging to new and legacy devices, while the Euro Module delivers the additional current and voltage required of more power-hungry devices such as the iPad Pro and MacBook Pro.
With devices determining the charge accepted, the power provided by these ports will automatically increase as the device’s capability improves, ensuring customers are set for the next charging standard.
View a copy of the 2021 Hamilton Litestat catalogue by clicking here