The 1394 Trade Association, the official industry body tasked with developing the FireWire standard, has introduced its new 1394b specification.

1394b is the updated version of FireWire. 1394a is the current version of FireWire which ships as standard in Macs across Apple's range. Apple invented and pioneered the standard. It owns the trademark for the name FireWire and was the first PC manufacturer to deploy it in its machines, encouraging the development of peripherals that also used it. The new specification offers significant speed improvements over the currently adopted implementation of FireWire/1394a.

FireWire devices implementing the 1394b standard can reach connectivity speeds of 800Megabits per second (Mbps). The old standard offered transfer speeds of 400Mbps. The supported distance has also been improved with 1394b, reaching 100 metres at 400Mbp, or up to 50 metres at 200Mbps. USB 2.0 currently offers 480Mbps. FireWire will hit speeds of up to 3.2Gbps per second over plastic optical fibre cables.

The new standard is also backward-compatible, so older FireWire devices will connect seamlessly with newer interfaces once these are implemented. The association says manufacturing cost of 1394b devices will also be lower than before, because of improvements in its analogue design.

Rubber-stamped 1394b has been in development for 18 months, and its final specifications now await approval by the members of the working group dedicated to its development – the so-called 'b' committee.

"1394b provides the bandwidth, distance and overall performance to make 1394 the ideal choice for home networking for many industrial applications, and for a new generation of computer peripherals," said 1394 trade association chairman Max Bassler, of connectivity specialists, Molex.

He added: "1394b is gaining momentum among vehicle manufacturers, who want to use it as the network bus for consumer electronics in automobiles. We expect to see the first 800Mbps devices this summer, and accelerated design activity by the autumn."

In recent months, Microsoft announced plans to support FireWire in preference to USB 2.0 in its forthcoming Windows XP operating system.