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What are the Dangers of Manufacturing and Using Untested USB Cables?
Jessica Hopkins

Not all cables are manufactured up to standard, even if designed to. Photo by Steve Johnson via Pexels

The dangers of untested USB cables have become a concerning topic in the tech industry in recent years. What used to be simpler cable designs have migrated to become much more complex to keep up with the high demands of new, advanced devices. Cables today operate at much faster speeds, provide exponentially more power, and include additional functionalities, all of this introduces plenty of new opportunities for error.

While the feature improvements of these newer cables are desirable, untested cables also can also bring an assortment of unfortunate consequences and extreme dangers to manufacturers and users. Here are some consequences of bad cables that both consumers and manufacturers should be aware of:

Devices Catching Fire

 We’ve heard the horror stories of phones catching fire and cables burning – why is this happening? Turns out one of the big reasons has to do with the faulty USB cables people are using to charge their devices. There are many types of cables out there that are not always up to specification when being sold to consumers. Many times, these bad cables tend to be cheap or are knock-offs, but this isn’t always the case; even reputable companies have run into issues with their cables.

In the cases of devices becoming burned or engulfed by flames of fire, there can be multiple reasons for this to occur. In this instance, the cable may not be able to appropriately interact with a device, which can very dangerous in certain circumstances. USB cables and ports, if up to spec, are designed to be able to accurately swap information to get an understanding of what type of device is being presented, how much power one can supply or receive, and how to perform a safe power negotiation process.

If cables are manufactured cheaply or inaccurately, it’s possible that the charger or cord may be supplying too much voltage to the phone because the device isn’t engineered to follow the proper protocol. This can cause overheating and under the right circumstances cause fires. A good example of this would be poorly made USB Type-C cables. USB Type-C offers some of the highest power providing capabilities – up to 20V and 5 amps, which is capable of supplying 100W of power, depending on the device. If the charging cable is not manufactured properly, the higher power could be supplied to the wrong pin, causing the charging cord to overheat, or even cause the internal battery to melt.

Devices Becoming Irreparable

Charging devices with untested or counterfeit cables can be a gamble. Sometimes, all it takes is one bad cable to completely ruin essential components within a device or even ruin the device as a whole, leaving it irreparable. What tends to cause this severe damage is how the cable is manufactured, and in these cases, a sloppy or poorly made cable can be to blame. Cables up to spec include resistors that limit the amount of current that flows through a circuit and are built with proper wiring. Poorly manufactured cables can be missing such vital components.

These days, with the intricacy of the newer cables, the cable simply not working is the least of our worries. We now have to be aware of much more serious consequences to plugging in cables to our devices. For instance, devices using bad chargers have become broken completely because the cable ports were fried due to unregulated voltage, shorts, and high levels of heat that rendered them unusable.

The Verge discusses an article about the dangers of USB Type-C power cords and how using the wrong one can prove to be fatal for devices.

Within legitimate Lightning cables, there is an internal U2 IC chip, called the Tristar chip, that is vital to its successful operability and transfer of power. This chip protects the phone by controlling the amount of current being delivered to the battery and protects against any surges that occur. In our blog post, “Are Counterfeit Lightning Cables Safe to Use?”, we discuss an article on the consequences of using counterfeit Lightning cables, and the risks associated with doing so.

These repercussions can be bad news for cable manufacturers and sellers. Consumers have been quick to notice that these bad cables are not just undesirable, but they can even be life-threatening. Because of this, companies have experienced liability issues, damages to reputation, and even expensive recalls on products.

Lawsuits and Tarnished Reputation

Being held accountable for product liability is a big concern for companies. When faulty cables get in the hands of the general population, it becomes a serious offense. It’s possible a company could experience major monetary and reputation-related damages, resulting in the potential loss of millions of dollars. Being held liable for a bad product consumes a lot of resources, and lawsuits are not only expensive, they also can ruin hard earned reputation that may never be recovered.

Maintaining a positive company reputation is one of the most essential foundations of success in business. Successful companies purposefully seek to build a trusting relationship with consumers, creating a dependable brand, which takes time and multiple resources. Unfortunately, lawsuits can take away this trust and perception overnight.

Any company, big or small, will feel the repercussions of a recall; we’ve seen even the most well-known, successful companies experience major setbacks with their brand because of this.  Even worse, is when the issue is not with the product itself but the included cable. Whether produced by the company or a third party, the blame falls on the brand who included the cable with their product. Thorough testing of end devices has long been an industry standard, but with the new complexities of USB cables, it is time to extend thorough testing to cables as well.

Expensive Recalls

Sometimes, taking the necessary steps to ensure customer safety means expensive product recalls, where all the products sold are reclaimed by the manufacturer. Since this means that the product can no longer be sold, all the money and resources invested into the product are now considered a loss which may never be recuperated. Some of the more well-known product recalls have been because of their massive effects on safety to the general public. There are accounts of phones catching fire, resulting in burned cars, homes, and airplanes. In situations like these, millions of these devices are returned and customers are often compensated. By extending complete test coverage to cables prior to shipment, the high cost of a recall can be better avoided.

What Can be Done to Prevent Such Outcomes?

Two of the main reasons why such faulty cables are sold in the first place is because cable testing has been known to be both time-consuming and expensive. Many cable manufactures creating cheap cables do not take time to perform quality control or invest in individual cable testing, which has been known to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and requires trained personnel to accurately test.

With the Total Phase Advanced Cable Tester, manufacturers can quickly, easily, and affordably test a wide range of USB, Lightning, and video cables, including Standard-A, Micro-B, Standard-B, Type-C, Lightning, HDMI, and DisplayPort. The Advanced Cable Tester provides comprehensive safety and quality checks, including continuity checking to prevent shorts of VBUS to data signals, DCR and IR Drop testing to verify that each power pin (VBUS and GND) is capable of carrying the required current, and much more. It gives users the ability to perform high-level, rapid spot-checking on cables in production, and provides 100% test coverage for quality control in laboratories. With a tool this affordable and easy-to-use, these dangers of untested cables will be a thing of the past.

To get more information on the Advanced Cable Tester, please email us at sales@totalphase.com or request a demo here.