USB 3.0 could soon get a big extension

In what could kick off a big year for USB 3.0, two tech firms have jointly developed a 20-metre USB 3.0 extension cable that will be showcased at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The extension cable, jointly developed by Burnaby, B.C.-based USB extension firm Icron Technologies Corp. and Milpitas, Calif.-based analog semiconductor maker Intersil Corp., will support a 5Gbps data rate for USB 3.0 devices, 480Mbps for USB 2.0 and 12Mps for USB 1.1. The cable is bus-powered from the host PC and will also be able to power remote devices and support USB hubs.

With the longer cable, industrial and medical companies would be able to place PCs in a control room with a USB-controlled machine located remotely. The companies also said the cables would support remote placement of external HDs in hidden locations, smart phone syncing stations, remote touchscreen video terminals, and lossless 1080p video cameras.

The USB 3.0 Extender is being shopped to select OEMs now, with the companies expecting the cable to be widely available later this year.

Tony Stelliga, director of signal integrity products at Intersil, said that medical firms with a large amount of data and record keeping requirements will be able to implement cheap, USB-powered external HDs for storage purposes. He added that factories, airports, convention centres and even schools could find a big use case with the new technology.

“In the classroom, you don’t need to build out a network and put a computer on everybody’s desk,” Stelliga said. “This gives you a very low cost way to allow people to share compute resources.

Icron CEO Robert Haefling agreed, saying that computers are much more powerful today and can support more than one monitor and user. “USB is going to help facilitate that and our cable can address the distance limitation,” he said.

Last August, Icron said business adoption of USB 3.0 might be slowed because USB 3.0 cable lengths would be reduced to three metres, down from five metres for USB 2.0 devices.

In response, one industry analyst said businesses had better get prepared for USB 3.0 despite the technical limitations.

“USB 2.0 will be the standard for the next 18 months,” Brian O’Rourke, a principal analyst of digital entertainment for Scottsdale, Az.-based In-Stat LLC, said in August.

For businesses, he said, USB 3.0 will be the next standard and is coming whether they like it or not.

Now with its USB 3.0 extender cable on the way, Icron is banking on a wider market in the business space, including a huge opportunity to meet the storage needs requirements at many pro audio-video and medical organizations.

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