vli 5 VIA Labs mixes up USB 3.0 and fibre optics for extended range

One of the drawbacks of USB, no matter the version is the limited range of 5m, not an issue for most home users, but known to be a big problem when it comes to a lot of vertical markets. With USB 2.0 it was easy enough to extend the connections over an Ethernet cable with the help of some signal boosters, but USB 3.0 required a different solution and VIA Labs seems to have come up with a solution to the problem with some help of fibre optical cable.

One of the drawbacks of USB, no matter the version is the limited range of 5m, not an issue for most home users, but known to be a big problem when it comes to a lot of vertical markets. With USB 2.0 it was easy enough to extend the connections over an Ethernet cable with the help of some signal boosters, but USB 3.0 required a different solution and VIA Labs seems to have come up with a solution to the problem with some help of fibre optical cable.

We've already seen some examples of what VIA Labs have worked on; most recently back at Computex where the company was demoing its first fibre optic USB 3.0 ICs. However, back then the company was a bit secretive about what it was working on and it turns out the project was a lot bigger than it sounded back then. The final product is called the V0510 and it was developed in co-operation with FOCI, PCL, OpTarget and UMEC.

vli 5 VIA Labs mixes up USB 3.0 and fibre optics for extended range

Image from Computex 2011 showing of the basic workings of the AOC cables

The chip itself is small enough to be integrated into the cables – which are referred to as Active Optical Cables or AOC – and one of the advantages of using optical cable rather than active signal boosters beyond the fact that you can generally achieve greater distances is that optical cables are not affected by EMI. We're not entirely sure if full USB 3.0 speed is available though, as the press release mentions “gigabit-speed USB 3.0 transmission distance up to 100m” which sound like you won't get the full speed of USB 3.0, but it could simply be the way the press release was written.

One of the downsides of using optical fibre instead of copper wires beyond cost is that there's no way of delivering power over the fibre cables. As such this solution is for data only, but it will most likely find plenty of uses anyhow and adding power at the remote side shouldn't be all that difficult in most cases VIA Labs and its partners are targeting this solution towards digital signage, surveillance and zero clients, although we can see this becoming popular for applications like trading floor display setups which today rely on very expensive fibre optic remote desktop solutions from the likes of Matrox, as well as many other niche markets.

Source: VIA Labs