USB 3.0: Not just for wired apps

USB 3.0: Not just for wired apps

Technology News |
By eeNews Europe

The need to deliver faster, power efficient data transfers on every device is more evident than ever. NetGear, for example, recently demonstrated a commercially available Wi-Fi-AC router and adapter running at 1.2 gigabits per second (Gbps). Given that consumers want to move terabytes of video and photos through their homes and into the cloud., minimizing power consumption is the No. 1 design challenge.

USB 2.0 remains the standard for wired data transfer, but designers implementing Wi-Fi and Long Term Evolution (LTE) systems-on-chip (SoCs) are switching from USB 2.0 to USB 3.0. Why? Because USB 2.0 effective throughputs are only about 0.35 Gbps and USB 2.0 consumes more power per megabyte than USB 3.0.

 “Fine,” you say. “Designers should use USB 3.0 for physical ports, but my product sends and receives data wirelessly. What do I need it for?”

If your product will hit the market in 2014 and 2015, pay attention:

  • Wi-Fi and LTE speeds will exceed 1 Gbps, which is 3 to 5x faster than USB 2.0
  • Consumers will demand faster data access from peripheral devices and in-home clouds
  • USB 3.0 enables lower power consumption than standard USB 2.0 PHYs by using an M-PHY with SuperSpeed Interchip (SSIC)

Wi-Fi at super speeds

Designing USB 3.0 into Wi-Fi/LTE products help designers keep up with increasing wireless speeds. The current generation of Wi-Fi is called Wi-Fi-N. With a single antenna, WiFi-N runs up to 0.15 Gbps. With multiple-in multiple-out antennas, Wi-Fi-N runs faster. Two antennas for receive and two for transmit (2×2) offer twice the speed (0.30 Gbps), and the 3×3 antennas offer up to 0.45 Gbps. This is much faster than USB 2.0’s effective 0.35 Gbps. USB 3.0 is needed to take advantage of Wi-Fi-N throughput.

Greater leaps in speed are being made in the fifth generation of WiFi, called WiFi-AC. WiFi-AC operates at 1 Gbps or higher, of which USB 2.0 can only support 30%. Only products with USB 3.0 will be able to take advantage of these full Wi-Fi-AC product speeds.

In addition to the upcoming Wi-Fi-AC products, LTE Advanced (LTE-A) modems will begin shipping in 2014 or earlier. LTE-A will start at 0.50 Gbps, allowing mobile users to share and synchronize data, music, pictures and videos in the cloud.

The in-home cloud

USB 3.0 will help enable consumers to store all their photos, videos, music and other data in hard drives attached to a router/gateway, and to access them wirelessly in an in-home, personal cloud. USB 3.0 will be in the WiFi-AC routers that create Wi-Fi networks. These routers will have one or more USB 3.0 host ports allowing consumers to connect USB 3.0 hard drives to a network, as shown in Figure 2, and create their own in-home Internet clouds for storage without a dedicated server or PC. Using Wi-Fi-AC allows data transfers at Gbps speeds between a notebook/tablet/phone and personal cloud.

Reduce power consumption with SSIC and USB 3.0

Key enablers of USB 3.0 in WiFi and LTE products are high-bandwidth, low-power M-PHY interfaces that support the SuperSpeed Interchip (SSIC) specification. USB 3.0 is used outside the box between a host and device. SSIC brings USB from outside of the box to the inside.

To reduce power consumption, mobile apps processors that run smart phones use a USB 3.0 host controller with an SSIC interface. The SSIC pins on the apps processor chip connect to the SSIC pins on the USB 3.0 device controller on an LTE modem chip. SSIC delivers USB 3.0 data speeds between chips to match the speed of the wireless protocols. This also reduces power consumption to one-fifth of the power of USB 3.0.

Because it enables reuse of existing software drivers, future Wi-Fi chips and LTE chips will use SSIC to save both effort and power.


Designers working on consumer electronics products scheduled for release in 2014 and 2015 should keep in mind the increasing Wi-Fi and LTE speeds, consumer demand for faster data access, and the need for longer battery life when selecting an interface standard. With higher throughput and lower power, USB 3.0 is an ideal choice.

There are IP solutions available that make it easier to design USB 3.0 into Wi-Fi/LTE and other products., such as DesignWare USB 3.0 controller and DesignWare MIPI M-PHY that support multiple gears and high-speed interfaces, including SSIC.

About the Author

Eric Huang is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager, Synopsys. Eric worked on USB at the beginning in 1995 with the world’s first BIOS that supported USB keyboards and mice while at Award Software. After a departure into embedded systems software for real-time operating systems, Eric returned to USB cores and software at inSilicon, the leading supplier of USB IP in the world. inSilicon was acquired by Synopsys in 2002. Eric served as Chairman of the USB On-The-Go Working Group for the USB Implementers Forum from 2004-2006.


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