Optical Thunderbolt 3 Cables Begin Rolling Out in Lengths Up to 50 Meters

The Thunderbolt 3 standard has been available for roughly four years now, but cable lengths have so far generally been limited to a couple of meters due to signal degradation over long distances of copper wiring. While the use of copper Thunderbolt 3 cables limits their length, it does allow for additional features like the ability to carry power and fallback use of USB modes at slower speeds.

Areca's 30-meter optical Thunderbolt 3 cable

There is an alternative to copper cables that allows for longer cable lengths, and that's optical fiber cables, which use light to transmit signals over long distances with high fidelity. While there have been optical versions of Thunderbolt 1 and 2 cables, the Thunderbolt 3 standard has been very slow in seeing optical cables come to market.

The market for optical Thunderbolt cables is relatively small given their expense and the fact that the vast majority of users have no need to run cables longer than a couple of meters, but for those who do need long cables, the wait for Thunderbolt 3 cables has been a long one.

That wait finally appears to be coming to an end, however, as we're starting to see signs of the cables coming to market. Taiwanese company Areca has recently launched optical Thunderbolt 3 cables, available in 10-, 20- and 30-meter lengths. The cables are available through B&H, but with pricing coming in at $559, $699, and $799 respectively, these are obviously only for pro-level users who absolutely need the highest performance over long distances. And remember that these cables can only carry Thunderbolt 3 data and don't fall back to USB or provide power to or from connected devices.

B&H currently lists expected availability of 7-10 business days on all three cable lengths, and Areca told me a few weeks ago that supplies were somewhat constrained as its factories were still trying to ramp production back up. Areca tells me that beyond the cables that have shown up at B&H, the company is also planning a special-order 50-meter cable and has also been considering a shorter 5.5- or 6-meter cable, although the minimal price difference between that and the 10-meter version may not make it worthwhile.

Corning's optical Thunderbolt 3 connectors

One of the major optical cable manufacturers users have been looking to for Thunderbolt 3 cables is Corning, and it appears its cables may be close to coming to market as well. One MacRumors reader let us know that Corning's cables have started appearing on websites of some European resellers like MacConsult in lengths ranging from 5.5 meters to 50 meters. Based on these listings, Corning's pricing looks like it will be starting at around the equivalent of $400 in the U.S., a bit less than Areca but still out of the range of the average consumer.

Corning tells me that while samples of its optical Thunderbolt 3 cables have been shown at trade shows over the past couple of years, it's not quite ready to officially launch them and shared the following statement:
Corning’s Thunderbolt 3 cables have not yet been launched publicly, although we have shown preliminary samples at industry events. We look forward to their launch, although a date has not been scheduled.
It seems likely that Corning is still awaiting final certification from Intel and that a distributor may have gotten a bit ahead of itself in pushing out preliminary listings to some resellers, but hopefully we can expect Corning's cables to hit the market fairly soon.

The annual NAB show in April would have been a good opportunity for Corning to launch its cables if final certification from Intel was imminent, but as with nearly every other trade show, NAB 2020 has been canceled, so we'll have to wait and see what Corning's plans are.

Optical Thunderbolt 3 cables are hitting the market just as Intel has started teasing Thunderbolt 4, although it's unclear what the differences between the two versions will be, as they appear to offer the same maximum transfer speeds. USB4 is also coming to market in the relatively near future and will essentially unify Thunderbolt 3 and USB with Thunderbolt 3's theoretical maximum 40 Gb/s speeds.
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Apple Awards iPhone Glass Supplier Corning Additional $250M From Advanced Manufacturing Fund

Apple today announced it is awarding its longtime iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch glass supplier Corning an additional $250 million from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund, building on its $200 million award in 2017.


The combined $450 million investment will support Corning's research and development into "state-of-the-art glass processes, equipment and materials integral to the delivery of next-generation consumer devices," including the upcoming iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro lineup, according to Apple.

Apple COO Jeff Williams:
Apple and Corning's rich history dates back more than a decade, and our partnership revolutionized glass and transformed the technology industry with the first iPhone. This award underscores Apple and Corning's shared belief in the vital role that ingenuity plays in creating industry-leading products, and the pride that both companies take in applying American innovation and advanced manufacturing to solve some of the world's toughest technology challenges.
Apple says it Advanced Manufacturing Fund was designed to "foster and support the innovative production and high-skill jobs that will help fuel a new era of technology-driven manufacturing" in the United States. To date, Apple has invested over $1 billion in American companies from the fund.

In addition to the $450 million now awarded to Corning, other commitments already announced include $390 million to Finisar and $10 million to the joint venture Elysis working towards carbon-free aluminum smelting.

Apple says it spent a collective $60 billion with 9,000 American suppliers in 2018, supporting 450,000 jobs in all 50 states and manufacturing locations in 36 states. iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max use glass manufactured at Corning's factory in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.

Corning has partnered with Apple since 2007 to provide glass for every generation of the iPhone and Apple Watch, and many generations of the iPad, all manufactured in the Harrodsburg facility. Since the iPhone launched in 2007, Apple has spent nearly $3 billion with Corning on the glass used in those devices.


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Apple Supplier Corning Working on Glass Display Solution for Foldable Phones

With foldable smartphones from the likes of Samsung and Huawei now out in the open, speculation has been piqued over whether Apple will follow suit. We know the company has explored ideas related to foldable phones in patent applications, but Apple is unlikely to release a foldable iPhone unless it can meet strict quality standards, and judging by the bulky designs and expensive price tags of early foldable devices, that could still be some ways off.

Huawei Mate X

One innovation in particular that Apple could be holding out for is foldable glass. Early folding phone manufacturers have been relying on plastic polymers to make their flexible displays, but unlike glass, plastic creases and crinkles over time. The material is also less robust and easier to scratch, which is why the deviation from traditional glass smartphone panels is all the more noticeable.

Corning, the makers of Gorilla Glass, is known to be actively developing a foldable glass solution that could one day find its way into a future foldable iPhone. Corning is a long-time Apple supplier, and its Gorilla Glass products have been used in the iPhone and the iPad for several years, which makes its current work on glass that's 0.1mm thick and can bend to a 5mm radius all the more interesting.
"In a glass solution, you're really challenging the laws of physics, in that to get a very tight bend radius you want to go thinner and thinner, but you also have to be able to survive a drop event and resist damage," Corning general manager John Bayne recently told Wired.

"The back of the problem we're trying to break, the technical challenge, is, can you keep those tight 3- to 5-millimeter bend radii and also increase the damage resistance of the glass. That's the trajectory we're on."
According to Wired, Corning is combining its experience with Willow Glass, which can roll up like a sheet of paper, and Gorilla Glass, which gets its strength from an ion-exchange process. Unfortunately, that process involves dipping glass into a molten salt solution, and salt corrodes the transistors found in display applications, which makes Willow Glass unsuitable for phones. Corning's work is currently focused on overcoming this challenge.
"We have glasses we've sampled to customers, and they're functional, but they're not quite meeting all the requirements," Bayne says. "People either want better performance against a drop event or a tighter bend radius. We can give them one or the other; the key is to give them both."
Bayne thinks the company's foldable glass will be ready for the mainstream in a couple of years. With a bit of luck, the $200 million that Apple granted Corning out of its $1 billion Advanced Manufacturing Fund will help the U.S. company achieve that goal.


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CES 2019: OtterBox Teams Up With Corning for New Line of Screen Protectors

OtterBox today announced that it's teaming up with Corning for a new line of Amplify screen protectors for smartphones.

For those unfamiliar with Corning, Corning is the company that creates the super strong Gorilla Glass that's used in Apple's iOS devices and other electronics.


OtterBox and Corning plan to create a "full portfolio" of "innovative glass solutions" to provide additional protection to smartphones and tablets while also improving the user experience.

The Amplify screen protectors will use proprietary engineering and manufacturing techniques for longer-lasting protection and durability.
"We understand that your phone screen is the window into your world and a gateway to your most important memories," said OtterBox CEO Jim Parke. "Corning is the leading glass innovation company in the world, and we look forward to this partnership improving smartphone screen protection for our customers."
According to OtterBox, the Amplify line of screen protectors will be launching soon for the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy smartphones.


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