Integrated Silicon Photonics:
With the digital universe expanding at an exponential rate, silicon
photonics is poised to bring fiber optics to a much broader array
of data transport applications. Researchers at Intel Labs describe
a fully integrated optical data link operating at 50 Gbps. This link
assembles all the core technologies needed for developing
high-volume, low-cost fiber-optic devices.
Courtesy of Intel Corp.
t’s all about data. The Information Age has become a digital explosion, with data growing
exponentially at a rate of tenfold every five years. According to the International Data Cor-
poration, the amount of digital information produced by humanity in 2020 will grow to
Moving all of this data around the Internet, within data centers, in and around PCs and serv-
ers, and between chips inside computing devices will require the widespread adoption of optical
communications in order to scale with the growth in storage and computing demands. The bar-
riers to the eternal promise of ubiquitous fiber optics has always been cost, and today optics only
wins for the niche of applications that demand very long distances or unusual levels of perfor-
mance that simply can’t be achieved using copper wires.
Just as with the evolution of the integrated circuit, optics’ pathway to mass markets will entail
replacing today’s discrete and bulky technology with integrated, silicon-based photonics. The
recent development of hybrid silicon lasers has eliminated a major barrier to producing fully
integrated transceivers using the same silicon high-volume-manufacturing tools used to fabricate
billions of computer chips each year. (See related article on silicon photonics in May 2010 OPN.)
These are the same processing techniques that have made integrated circuits so successful that, in
less than half a century, we find them controlling nearly everything we touch on a daily basis: our
cars, our televisions, our music players, and of course the entire fabric of the Internet.
To validate this viability of integrated silicon photonics, we developed a fully integrated end-to-end silicon photonics link. This research is separate from Intel’s new Light Peak technology,
though both are components of Intel’s overall I/O strategy. Light Peak is an effort to bring a
multiprotocol, 10-Gbps connections to Intel client platforms. Silicon photonics research aims
to use silicon integration to bring dramatic cost reductions, reach terascale data rates, and bring
optical communications to an even broader set of high-volume applications.
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