Smartphones, tablets, you name it – there is a serious amount of technology packed inside of pretty much every mobile device on the market. In this edition of Acting the A+: FSET’s guide to CompTIA A+ certification, we’ll be taking a look at all of the different kinds of connections – cables and ports – that you’re likely to encounter while working with mobility in the field today.
As has been the case for quite some time now, there are two major types of connections found in most mobile devices: wired and wireless. As technology has changed over the years, so have the different kinds of cables, ports and access points that devices and networks use to connect to the internet and each other. In this blog, you’ll learn about the most common types of connectors used in mobile devices, all of which are meant to help synchronize, backup or identify certain information.
Arguably the most common kind of connection nowadays is USB, which stands for Universal Serious Bus. USB is a high-speed wired connection that can be used for sending data, as well as the flow of electricity and, if possible, charging batteries. There are several different types of USB that are used across a wide range of mobile devices. These include:
- USB-A – The most commonly used type of USB, featuring a cable with a dongle that gets wider at the end that it plugs in. The connector is also rotationally asymmetric, meaning that it must be plugged into ports facing the right way
- USB-B – An older variant of USB with a more nuanced dongle shape, enforcing the singular direction of its power flow (although data can still go both ways). While regular USB-Bs are rarer nowadays, newer USB-B micros (as well as USB-A micros) have replaced them in some cases
- USB-C – The newest variant of USB, aimed at simplifying connections by having the cable be shaped the exact same on both ends. Because of its design, USB-C cables are fully bi-directional, meaning that power and data can flow freely from end to end – and because they’re the most advanced, USB-Cs are also generally capable of higher data transfer rates, which provides a series of advantages ranging from better quality video to faster transfer times
USBs come in one of four major versions – 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0, with some minor variants in-between – which generally refer to how fast they can transfer data. For example, the original USB 1.0 had a data transfer rate of 1.5 megabits per second, whereas USB 4.0 running through a USB-C cable is capable of an exponentially faster 40 gigabits per second. In addition to transferring raw data (e.g., computer files), USB can send several different kinds of signals including audio, video and input commands (e.g., mouse movements or keyboard strokes).
Outside of the world of Windows and Android, it’s important to note that Apple has developed its own equivalents to USB, namely Thunderbolt and Lightning connections. Like USB-C, Lightning cables are bi-directional and can be inserted either way into any Apple devices (fun fact: the UBC-C was actually developed in response to the ease and simplicity of the Lightning cable!). On average, Lightning cables also support a higher power output than regular USBs, meaning that folks plugging in their iPhones and iPads can expect to charge their batteries a little bit faster than their Android counterparts.
Before USB and Lighting technology took the world by storm, DB9 (also known as DE9) were for a long time the de facto serial cable in the field, going all the way back to 1969! Despite now being a bit outdated, you will still occasionally find DB9 cables in the field, often to configure ports for modems, routers and other server- and network-based infrastructure. Linking back to the world of mobile devices, some laptops still feature with DB9 ports, and even if they don’t, USB to DB9 converters will probably be one of the many adapters in your toolbox if you’re worth your salt as a service technician. Don’t be afraid to use them!
Next up, let’s talk about near-field communication, often abbreviated as NFC. NFC is a short-range connectivity technology that uses magnetic fields to help different devices communicate wirelessly, usually limited to a few centimeters of total length before contact can be established – within 3.5 inches to be exact. Much like tapping a chipped bank card, most smartphones are now made with built-in NFC technology, meaning you can use options like Apple Pay and Google Pay to take care of transactions at the till. NFC tech is can also be used like an access token, which often sees users flash special ID cards to electronically unlock doors to enter specific places, such as their workplace. Because the technology uses magnets, most NFC terminals require no battery power to use! Neat, huh?
Last but not least – Bluetooth! Most people nowadays are familiar with Bluetooth, but not necessarily up to speed on exactly what it is or how it works. As a wireless option, Bluetooth technology sends wireless signals to establish a personal area network (PAN), which has a maximum range of about 30 feet (and even less if there are obstacles in the way, such as a wall). Bluetooth has become both a standard and a favourite in the industry due to how the signal frequency is always changing, meaning Bluetooth signals are very hard to hack or interfere with. Most often, Bluetooth is used to pair one mobile device with another, such as a smartphone to a vehicle dashboard or a pair of wireless headphones.
One of the most useful ways to use Bluetooth technology is what’s known as tethering or phone-as-modem (PAM), which enables users to share their mobile device’s internet connection with others – though you can also use either a Wi-FI (802.11) or wired USB connection instead, if you so choose. It is possible to tether from most modern smartphones by turning the option on in settings, at which point the device will essentially become a router for others who are nearby to connect to. It is important to note that tethering will often use your phone’s data for a signal, so long as your provider/payment plan is set up for it – which means you should be careful to not tether too much if you’re on a limited about of data per month!
As always, keep in mind this blog is not grounds for A+ certification, but merely a way to tip your toe into the water of the world of Information Technology. If would like a career in the field, get in touch with us or seek out formal A+ training to get yourself started!