The Thunderbolt 3 standard has been available for about four years now, but cable lengths have generally been limited to a few meters since the copper wires have a long range of signal degradation. While copper thunderbolt 3 cables limit their length, it also provides additional features such as power capability and lower speed USB modes.
Areca 30 meter optical Thunderbolt 3 cable
There is an alternative to copper cables that allow longer cables, and it is fiber optic cables that use light to transmit signals over long distances with high fidelity. Although there are optical versions of Thunderbolt 1 and 2 cables, the Thunderbolt 3 standard has seen the entry of optical cables very slowly.
The market for Thunderbolt optical cables is relatively small considering the cost and the fact that the vast majority of users do not have to run cables longer than a few meters, but those who need long cables have to wait long for Thunderbolt 3 cables.
This wait finally seems to be coming to an end as we begin to see signs of cable coming to market. Taiwan’s Areca recently introduced Thunderbolt 3 optical cables, which are available in 10, 20 and 30 meter lengths. Cables are available through B&H, but prices are priced at $ 559, $ 699, and $ 799, obviously only for professional users who need the highest performance over long distances. And keep in mind that these cables carry only Thunderbolt 3 data and do not drop to USB and do not supply power to or from connected devices.
B&H currently lists expected availability within 7-10 business days for each of the three cable lengths, and Areca told me a few weeks ago that stocks were slightly limited as factories continued to try to curtail production. Areca says that in addition to the cables shown at B&H, the company is designing a 50m special-purpose cable and is considering a shorter 5.5m or 6m cable, though the minimum price difference and the 10m version may be does not make it worthy.
Corning Optical Thunderbolt 3 Connectors
Corning, one of the largest fiber optic cable users looking for Thunderbolt 3 cables, appears to be nearing market entry as well. One MacRumors reader informed us that Corning’s cables are appearing on the websites of some European resellers, such as MacConsult. Based on these listings, Corning’s pricing in the United States starts at about $ 400, slightly lower than Areca’s, but remains outside the average consumer range.
Corning says that while samples of Thunderbolt 3 optical cables have been featured at exhibitions over the past few years, they are not yet ready to be officially launched and shared the following statement:
The Corning Thunderbolt 3 cables have not yet been released, although preliminary samples have been presented at industry events. We look forward to getting them started, though the date is not yet planned.
It seems likely that Corning is still waiting for Intel’s final certification, and that a distributor may have had a bit of time to release preliminary lists to some resellers, but hopefully Corning’s cables are coming to market soon.
April’s annual NAB show would have been a good opportunity for Corning to launch its cables if Intel’s final certification is coming soon, but like almost every other show, NAB 2020 has been canceled, so we have to wait for Corning’s plans.
Thunderbolt 3 optical cables are coming into the market just when Intel starts teasing Thunderbolt 4, though it’s not clear what the difference will be between the two versions, as they seem to offer the same maximum transfer rates. USB4 will be launched in the relatively near future, essentially combining Thunderbolt 3 and USB with Thunderbolt 3 theoretically at a maximum speed of 40 Gbps.