USB branding could become a little easier to understand

Steve Marcus / reuters

The group that oversees USB wants to make it easier for you to understand what various cables and ports can actually do. It's trying to ditch branding like SuperSpeed and USB4 in an attempt to simplify matters, but manufacturers may not necessarily adopt the changes.

The steps are part of a broader drive by the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) to rebrand USB standards. The group brought in new logos for cables, ports and packaging last year. The updated branding is about helping people understand what the standards are capable of in terms of data transfer speeds and performance, as well as charging speeds, USB-IF president and chief operating officer Jeff Ravencraft told The Verge.

SuperSpeed (also known as USB 3) has been around over a decade. You may have seen it on USB cable boxes. Going forward, USB-IF wants cable makers to use “USB 10Gbps” instead of “SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps” and “USB 20Gbps” instead of “USB4 20Gbps." Meanwhile, USB-C cables certified by the USB-IF will need to list both data transfer speeds and charging wattage.

The changes recently came into effect, and the updated branding could start appearing on labels and packaging by the end of the year. The branding guidelines apply to products with any type of USB port except for USB 1.0, which you won't see much these days anyway, and USB 2.0 (aka USB Hi-Speed). The USB-IF reckons that, in the latter case, using "USB 480Mbps" may create confusion for those who might see that on packaging and believe it to be faster than USB 5Gbps, simply because of the larger number.

The rebranding requirements only apply to devices and cables certified by the USB-IF. But, because USB is an open standard (unlike, say, Thunderbolt 4), there's nothing really to stop manufacturers from using SuperSpeed and USB4 branding if they really want to, as The Verge notes. As such, it remains to be seen how much these measures will actually clear things up for people who just need a cable for their device.

Knowing which cable you need is already complicated enough. Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 connectors and ports look exactly the same as USB-C ones, for instance. The updated guidelines won't do much to help you understand if a cable supports DisplayPort or a certain fast-charging standard either.

On the surface, at least, these seem like positive moves to reduce confusion and get rid of unnecessary verbiage. Still, it's unclear whether abandoning the SuperSpeed moniker, which was arguably less commonly used than USB 3 in any case, will actually help clarify things for most users. It may not matter much anyway given the increasingly widespread adoption of USB-C as a more universal standard — which is the whole point of USB in the first place.