The ubiquitous USB 3.0 connector is advancing to light-speed and longer-distance data transfers thanks to optical cables from Corning that started shipping on Tuesday.
Corning’s first USB 3.Optical Cable—which stretches up to 10 meters—will transfer data faster and over longer distances than USB copper cables. Those have been in use since the 1990s and can run just a few meters on a single cable. And those who want to run even longer stretches of cable around their home or office can look forward to 30-meter lengths that will be available at a later date, a Corning rep said.
The optical cable is compatible with existing USB 3.0 and USB 2.0 ports on cameras, storage devices, printers, displays and other peripherals. The cables are 80 percent lighter and 50 percent thinner than copper cables, Corning says. They can maintain data transfer rates of 5Gbps (bits per second), unlike copper cables where data transfer can slow down over longer distances. The longest USB 3.0 copper cables extend to 10 meters, but have different connectors and built-in signal repeaters to extend data transfers.
Early adopters of USB 3.0 optical cables could be owners of high-speed external hard drives and high-definition video equipment, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.
Optical cables are also available as an alternative to copper wires for Thunderbolt connectors, which are in Macs and PCs. Corning has already announced optical cables up to 100 meters for Thunderbolt 2, which can transfer data at 20Gbps.
But as in Thunderbolt, Corning’s optical cables are not able to carry power, so connected USB 3.0 peripherals need to be plugged into power outlets. Copper cables are able to carry power so peripherals don’t need to be plugged into power outlets.
Optical wire adoption has been poor because of the high prices, but McCarron said demand for the cables will grow with the need for speed. Products with the latest USB 3.1 connectors—which will transfer data at 10Gbps—will come out by the end of this year. It is not clear yet if Corning’s new cables are forward-compatible.
“It’s a fairly safe assertion that this technology is going to grow as data rates go higher,” McCarron said.