Our story Why Should We Pay For A Thunderbolt Cable On A High End Audio Interface? seems to have garnered a lot of interest.
There was some discussion around the cost associated with supplying Thunderbolt cables so we reached out to Sonnet to ask them what costs were involved when including a Thunderbolt cable free with products. Greg LaPorte, Vice President Sales & Marketing at Sonnet Technologies, Inc. gave us this reply.
"The quick answer to your question is that we (developers) do not have to pay any kind of a license fee to Apple or Intel for included cables or for the devices we develop with Thunderbolt interfaces. I am not aware of any license fee paid by Thunderbolt cable manufacturers either. It is my understanding that Thunderbolt cable manufacturers, like device developers, simply purchase the qualified chips.
Here is a little background that may help you understand the “cable not included” situation - from the perspective of a developer that was one of the first three developers to ship any kind of Thunderbolt enabled device and one of the first two to ship Thunderbolt 2.
When Thunderbolt emerged as a new technology, almost every aspect of it was significantly more expensive than other interfaces the market was familiar with. The cost to add Thunderbolt interfaces to a device (with sophisticated muxing of PCIe data and video) was more expensive and the cost of cables (with active electronics in each cable end) were more expensive. These increased costs added significant benefit (huge leap in bandwidth, multiple devices in a single chain, both data and video over the same cable) including the not often mentioned benefit of high reliability and interoperability of “Thunderbolt Certified” devices. From my perspective, this is one of the greatest benefits.
Side note - As a developer that designs, builds and sells different devices with USB, eSATA, FireWire and Thunderbolt interfaces we really appreciate (due to minimal support costs) the value of the requirement that each device that carries a Thunderbolt port follows strict guidelines for plug-n-play operation (surprise disconnect with out crashing the computer, hot-plug, sleep recovery, playing well with any other TB equipped device and in any position in the TB chain, etc.) and then the thorough certification testing to verify this compliance.
Initially, only Apple offered Thunderbolt cables at around $50 per cable. Interestingly, at that time device developers could not source cables for much less than what Apple was charging at retail. Because of this high cable cost, developers were reluctant to add that COGS to their products, especially products that had to compete with USB3 and eSATA equivalents. Nobody, including Sonnet, wanted to be the first to have the retail price of their product stand out (as more expensive). The fear was that customers would not recognize the value of the Thunderbolt cable included and only focus on the product price.
In the second year, cable costs came down significantly, as did the cost of Thunderbolt chips and the cost of integrating Thunderbolt into devices. Nevertheless, almost all device developers were reluctant to “be the first” to include the cable - especially for the lower priced devices. By that point our volume on many products had increased to a point where our cost per device was lowering and we were in a position to reduce our prices. However, rather than reduce prices, we decided to start including Thunderbolt cables in our products. We also include a Thunderbolt cable lock - ThunderLok™, along with the Thunderbolt cable. Here is an example - scroll down the page to see it.
More recently, we have also been able to price reduce our Thunderbolt to PCIe expansion chassis while still including the cable and Thunderlok.
I believe other device developers have gone through the same process in ultimately deciding to include the cable. In some very price competitive product categories with several competitors, it is understandably common to find the cable not included to keep the suggested retail price down. As you pointed out, in $1000 plus product categories, it is difficult to understand why manufacturers are still not including the cable ($1,050 or $1,150 really doesn’t make that much difference)."
Thank you Greg for letting us have this information.