Tiny, Powerful Retrofits.jpg Delta

Tiny, Powerful Retrofits

USB-C is coming, but when and how?

What do all those hordes of passengers dragging their multiple smartphones, tablets and laptops aboard aircraft want? Right, they want to use them onboard.

But they also want something else. Before passengers debark at destinations, many want to recharge all their devices so they arrive fresh and connected when, for example, they need directions to hotels or access to Uber.

But recharging options have been limited for many passengers. Premium cabins may have 110-volt, alternating current laptop chargers, but what do the cheap seats have? Maybe 10 watts of direct current, not enough to get a good charge on a laptop or tablet.

That is about to change. Apple and Samsung are adopting the new USB-C ports for both power and data. Other device makers will follow. These new ports can handle up to 100 watts of power and 10 gigabytes per second of data.

So suddenly, it is becoming possible to let economy passengers get a fast charge with a USB-C outlet in economy.

Panasonic already has an early version of USB-C with 27 watts flying with British Airways and Emirates. It will bump the wattage up with a new model in 2021. In early 2019, Astronics will offer a 60-watt version, as will IFPL. The IFPL equipment will split the power converter from the outlet itself, so if the latter gets damaged by a clumsy plugger, it’s an easy and cheap replacement.

Both firms expect USB-C outlets will be much more durable than the current USB-A standard, partly because they are reversible. That is, you can plug in upside down, and it doesn’t matter. DigEcor and Rockwell Collins also will offer their USB-C devices.

There will thus be plenty of choices. But carriers need to be careful. The transition from consumer devices with USB-A to those with USB-C will probably take about five years to complete, so both kinds will have to be supported for a while. Other questions also arise:

Where should the new outlets go, on arm rests, seatbacks or as part of the IFE screen? Convenience and maintainability count here.

Should carriers use the data capabilities as well as power capabilities of USB-C? Data is less essential than power, and will require more heavy cables.

And when should the modification be made? Should entire IFE systems and seats be altered at the same time?

No matter how it’s done, the move to USB-C will be a big gain for those device-laden economy travelers.

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