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What Is Optical USB?

USB cables are used to connect devices -- such as printers, keyboards and music players -- to computers.
Optical technology may eventually be used to extend the length of USB 3.0 cables.
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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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Optical USB is typically used to refer to universal serial bus (USB) technology that uses optical technology, such as fiber optics, to improve data transmission speeds. This term is sometimes used to refer to USB 3.0 technology; however, there are somewhat conflicting reports regarding the use of optical technology in standard USB 3.0 specifications. Optical USB can also refer to the use of optical technology in USB cables and connecters, such as fiber optic USB extension cables and hubs.

USB cables and ports are typically used to connect a variety of different computer devices and hardware to each other. This can include printers and scanners, as well as cameras, mobile phones, and data storage devices such as external hard drives. One of the major limits with much of the USB technology that was implemented in the early 21st century and late 20th century is a basic limitation on data transmission rates due to the nature of USB cables. Optical USB would improve performance by including fiber optic cables with the standard copper cables usually used in USB connectors, allowing for much greater data transmission rates.

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Initial reports regarding the release of USB 3.0 in 2008 indicated that optical technology was likely being used to greatly improve data rates. Subsequent reports, however, seem to show a lack of fiber optics as part of the USB 3.0 standard, meaning that optical USB may still not be an inherent part of USB 3.0. In 2010, the first commercial USB 3.0 products became available to consumers, and early analysis of these products did show an improved data rate, but optical USB technology did not seem to be present.

There are various additional uses for optical USB technology that could be introduced, however, such as the use of fiber optics in USB extenders to prevent signal loss. One of the major drawbacks of USB 3.0 technology is that cables for USB 3.0 would have a shorter maximum length than other types of data cables. Extender cables and hubs can be used to increase this distance, but these cables would need to be designed to prevent a loss of signal. Optical USB cables would likely be able to extend this distance and maintain signal strength.

Hubs used to allow multiple users to connect to a single USB 3.0 device could also utilize optical USB technology, but this does not seem to be an industry standard. While USB 3.0 does have improved data rates over previous versions, this could potentially be boosted even further through the use of fiber optics. This type of improved performance would likely be an option utilized by certain manufacturers, and does not seem to be part of standard USB 3.0 specifications.

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