Sumitomo Electric Industries has announced that it's the first company to receive certification from Intel to produce optical Thunderbolt cables. Currently all Thunderbolt cables have metal components, which limit the maximum length of those cables to around 10 feet. Optical Thunderbolt cables will allow lengths of up to 100 feet, which will be helpful in professional post-production studios, especially as noisy hard drives or other accessories can be kept away from sensitive audio recording equipment.
Sumitomo Electric says the new cables will provide the full 10 Gbps of the metal cables, and can become tangled or pinched up to 180 degrees without seeing any kind of signal degradation. The optical cables will be as thin as the current metal Thunderbolt cables, but their connection heads will be slightly longer at 38mm versus the metal cable's 28mm connection. One other difference is that optical cables are not capable of powering devices, like external hard drives. Any bus-powered devices will need a separate power supply to run when connected via an optical Thunderbolt cable.
The new optical Thunderbolt cables will be compatible with all Macs and devices shipped with Thunderbolt ports to date. Sumitomo Electric Industries has not announced any pricing yet.