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Silicon Photonics

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Data centre interconnect drives coherent

  • NeoPhotonics announced at OFC a high-speed modulator and intradyne coherent receiver (ICR) that support an 800-gigabit wavelength
  • It also announced limited availability of its nano integrable tunable laser assembly (nano-ITLA)  and demonstrated its pico-ITLA, an even more compact silicon photonics-based laser assembly
  • The company also showcased a CFP2-DCO pluggable

NeoPhotonics unveiled several coherent optical transmission technologies at the OFC conference and exhibition held in San Diego last month.

Ferris Lipscomb“There are two [industry] thrusts going on right now: 400ZR and data centre interconnect pizza boxes going to even higher gigabits per wavelength,” says Ferris Lipscomb, vice president of marketing at NeoPhotonics.

The 400ZR is an interoperable 400-gigabit coherent interface developed by the Optical Internetworking Forum (OIF).

Optical module makers are developing 400ZR solutions that fit within the client-side QSFP-DD and OSFP pluggable form factors, first samples of which are expected by year-end.


800-gigabit lambdas

Ciena and Infinera announced in the run-up to OFC their latest coherent systems - the WaveLogic 5 and ICE6, respectively - that will support 800-gigabit wavelengths. NeoPhotonics announced a micro intradyne coherent receiver (micro-ICR) and modulator components that are capable of supporting such 800-gigabit line-rate transmissions. 

NeoPhotonics says its micro-ICR and coherent driver modulator are class 50 devices that support symbol rates of 85 to 90 gigabaud required for such a state-of-the-art line rate.


There are two [industry] thrusts going on right now: 400ZR and data centre interconnect pizza boxes going to even higher gigabits per wavelength


The OIF classification defines categories for devices based on their analogue bandwidth performance. “With class 20, the 3dB bandwidth of the receiver and the modulator is 20GHz,” says Lipscomb. “With tricks of the trade, you can make the symbol rate much higher than the 3dB bandwidth such that class 20 supports 32 gigabaud.” Thirty-two gigabaud is used for 100-gigabit and 200-gigabit coherent transmissions.

Class 50 refers to the highest component performance category where devices have an analogue bandwidth of 50GHz. This equates to a baud rate close to 100 gigabaud, fast enough to achieve data transmission rates exceeding a terabit. “But you have to allow for the overhead the forward-error correction takes, such that the usable data rate is less than the total,” says Lipscomb (see table).

Source: Gazettabyte, NeoPhotonics

Silicon photonics-based COSA

NeoPhotonics also announced a 64-gigabaud silicon photonics-based coherent optical subassembly (COSA). The COSA combines the receiver and modulator in a single package that is small enough to fit within a QSFP-DD or OSFP pluggable for applications such as 400ZR.

Last year, the company announced a similar COSA implemented in indium phosphide. In general, it is easier to do higher speed devices in indium phosphide, says Lipscomb, but while the performance in silicon photonics is not quite as good, it can be made good enough.

“It [silicon photonics] is now stretching certainly into the Class 40 [that supports 600-gigabit wavelengths] and there are indications, in certain circumstances, that you might be able to do it in the Class 50.”

Lipscomb says NeoPhotonics views silicon photonics as one more material that complements its indium phosphide, planar lightwave circuit and gallium arsenide technologies. “Our whole approach is that we use the material platform that is best for a certain application,” says Lipscomb.

In general, coherent products for telecom applications take time to ramp in volumes. “With the advent of data centre interconnect, the volume growth is much greater than it ever has been in the past,” says Lipscomb. 

NeoPhotonics’ interested in silicon photonics is due to the manufacturing benefits it brings that help to scale volumes to meet the hyperscalers’ requirements. “Whereas indium phosphide has very good performance, the infrastructure is still limited and you can’t duplicate it overnight,” says Lipscomb. “That is what silicon photonics does, it gives you scale.”

NeoPhotonics also announced the limited availability of its nano integrable tunable laser assembly (nano-ITLA). “This is a version of our external cavity ITLA that has the narrowest line width in the industry,” says Lipscomb.


It [silicon photonics] is now stretching certainly into the Class 40 [that supports 600-gigabit wavelengths] and there are indications, in certain circumstances, that you might be able to do it in the Class 50


The nano-ITLA can be used as the source for Class 50, 800-gigabit systems and current Class 40 600 gigabit-per-wavelength systems. It is also small enough to fit within the QDFP-DD and OSFP client-side modules for 400ZR designs. “It is a new compact laser that can be used with all those speeds,” says Lipscomb.

NeoPhotonics also showed a silicon-photonics based pico-ITLA that is even smaller than the nano-ITLA.“The [nano-ITLA’s] optical cavity is now made using silicon photonics so that makes it a silicon photonics laser,” says Lipscomb. 

Instead of having to assemble piece parts using silicon photonics, it can be made as one piece. “It means you can integrate that into the same chip you put your modulator and receiver on,” says Lipscomb. “So you can now put all three in a single COSA, what is called the IC-TROSA.” The IC-TROSA refers to an integrated coherent transmit-receive optical subassembly, defined by the OIF, that fits within the QSFP-DD and OSFP.

Despite the data centre interconnect market with its larger volumes and much faster product uptakes, indium phosphide will still be used in many places that require higher optical performance. “But for bulk high-volume applications, there are lots of advantages to silicon photonics,” says Lipscomb.


400ZR and 400ZR+

A key theme at this year’s OFC was the 80km 400ZR. Also of industry interest is the 400ZR+, not an OIF specification but an interface that extends the coherent range to metro distances.

Lipscomb says that the initial market for the 400ZR+ will be smaller than the 400ZR, while the ZR+’s optical performance will depend on how much power is left after the optics is squeezed into a QSFP-DD or OSFP module.

“The next generation of DSP will be required to have a power consumption low enough to do more than ZR distances,” he says. “The further you go, the more work the DSP has to do to eliminate the fibre impairments and therefore the more power it will consume.”

Will not the ZR+ curtail the market opportunity for the 400-gigabit CFP2-DCO that is also aimed at the metro? 

“It’s a matter of timing,” says Lipscomb. “The advantage of the 400-gigabit CFP2-DCO is that you can almost do it now, whereas the ZR+ won’t be in volume till the end of 2020 or early 2021.”

Meanwhile, NeoPhotonics demonstrated at the show a CFP2-DCO capable of 100-gigabit and 200-gigabit transmissions.

NeoPhotonics has not detailed the merchant DSP it is using for its CFP2-DCO except to say that it working with ‘multiple ones’. This suggests it is using the merchant coherent DSPs from NEL and Inphi.

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