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Silicon photonics economics set to benefit III-V photonics  

Silicon photonics promises to deliver cheaper optical components using equipment, processes and fabrication plants paid for by the chip industry. Now, it turns out, traditional optical component players using indium phosphide and gallium arsenide can benefit from similar economies, thanks to the wireless IC chip industry.


Valery TolstikhinSilicon photonics did a good thing; it turned the interest of the photonics industry to the operational ways of silicon 



So argues Valery Tolstikhin, head of a design consultancy and former founder and CTO of Canadian start-up OneChip Photonics. The expectations for silicon photonics may still to be fulfilled, says Tolstikhin, but what the technology has done is spark interest in the economics of component making. And when it comes to chip economics, volumes count.

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IBM demos a 100 Gigabit silicon photonics transceiver

IBM has demonstrated a 100 gigabit transceiver using silicon photonics technology, its most complex design unveiled to date. The 100 gigabit design is not a product but a technology demonstrator, and IBM says it will not offer branded transceivers to the marketplace.

“It is a demonstration vehicle illustrating the complex design capabilities of the technology and the functionality of the optical and electrical components,” says Will Green, manager of IBM’s silicon integrated nano-photonics group. 

Will Green

IBM has been developing silicon photonics technology for over a decade, starting with building-block optical functions based on silicon, to its current monolithic system-on-chip technology that includes design tools, testing and packaging technologies.

Now this technology is nearing commercialisation. 

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Altera’s 30 billion transistor FPGA 

  • The Stratix 10 features a routing architecture that doubles overall clock speed and core performance 
  • The programmable family supports the co-packaging of transceiver chips to enable custom FPGAs  
  • The Stratix 10 family supports up to 5.5 million logic elements
  • Enhanced security features stop designs from being copied or tampered with      

Altera has detailed its most powerful FPGA family to date. Two variants of the Stratix 10 family have been announced: 10 FPGAs and 10 system-on-chip (SoC) devices that include a quad-core 64-bit architecture Cortex-A53 ARM processor alongside the programmable logic. The ARM processor can be clocked at up to 1.5 GHz.

The Stratix 10 family is implemented using Intel’s 14nm FinFET process and supports up to 5.5 million logic elements. The largest device in Altera’s 20nm Arria family of FPGAs has 1.15 million logic elements, equating to 6.4 billion transistors. “Extrapolating, this gives a figure of some 30 billion transistors for the Stratix 10,” says Craig Davis, senior product marketing manager at Altera. 


Altera's HyperFlex routing architecture. Shown (pointed to by the blue arrow) are the HyperFlex registers that sit at the junction of the interconnect traces. Also shown are the adaptive logic module blocks. Source: Altera.

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ADVA's 100 Terabit data centre interconnect platform  

  • The FSP 3000 CloudConnect comes in several configurations
  • The data centre interconnect platform scales to 100 terabits of throughput
  • The chassis use a thin 0.5 RU QuadFlex card with up to 400 Gig transport capacity
  • The optical line system has been designed to be open and programmable

ADVA Optical Networking has unveiled its FSP 3000 CloudConnect, a data centre interconnect product designed to cater for the needs of the different data centre players. The company has developed several sized platforms to address the workloads and bandwidth needs of data centre operators such as Internet content providers, communications service providers, enterprises, cloud and colocation players.

Certain Internet content providers want to scale the performance of their computing clusters across their data centres. A cluster is a grouping of distributed computing comprising a defined number of virtual machines and processor cores (see Clusters, pods and recipes explained, bottom). Yet there are also data centre operators that only need to share limited data between their sites.

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Moore's law and silicon photonics

It is rare for a trade magazine article to receive so much coverage 50 years after publication. But then it is not often that an observation made in an article becomes a law, a law that explained how electronics would become a transformative industry. 

Chip pioneer Gordon E. Moore’s article appeared in the magazine Electronics in 1965. Dr. Moore was the director of the R&D labs at Fairchild Semiconductor, an early maker of transistors. Moore went on to co-found Intel, then a memory company, and became its second CEO after Robert Noyce. 

Moore’s article was written in the early days of integrated circuits. At the time, silicon wafers were one inch in diameter and integrating 50 components on a chip was deemed a state-of-the-art design

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Ciena's stackable platform for data centre interconnect  

Ciena is the latest system vendor to unveil its optical transport platform for the burgeoning data centre interconnect market. Data centre operators require scalable platforms that can carry significant amounts of traffic to link sites over metro and long-haul distances, and are power efficient. 

The Waveserver stackable interconnect system delivers 800 Gig traffic throughput in a 1 rack unit (1RU) form factor. The throughput comprises 400 Gigabit of client-side interfaces and 400 Gigabit coherent dense WDM transport. 

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OIF moves to raise coherent transmission baud rate

The Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF) has started modulator and receiver specification work to enhance coherent optical transmission performance. The OIF initiative aims to optimise modulator and receiver photonics operating at a higher baud rate than the current 32 Gigabaud (Gbaud).

"We want the two projects to look at those trade-offs and look at how we could build the particular components that could support higher individual channel rates,” says Karl Gass of Qorvo and the OIF physical and link layer working group vice chair, optical.  

Karl Gass

The OIF members, which include operators, internet content providers, equipment makers, and optical component and chip players, want components that work over a wide bandwidth, says Gass. This will allow the modulator and receiver to be optimised for the new higher baud rate.

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