Thunderbolt ports on the latest Macs already support optical cabling, according to Intel. New fiber optic cables, which will allow connections as long as “tens of meters” instead of the current three meter limit for copper cable, should be available in 2012.
Thunderbolt started life as an optical interconnect codenamed LightPeak. Developed by Intel with input from Apple, it was designed to ramp from 10Gbps to as high as 100Gbps using silicon photonics. Several factors—in particular, costs associated with fiber optic cabling—resulted in the initial version using electrical-only copper cabling.