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Hengtong extends Rockley partnership with $30M investment

04 Mar 2019

UK-based silicon photonics firm extends existing relationship with Chinese backer.

Rockley Photonics, the Oxford, UK, company developing integrated silicon photonics chipsets, says it has attracted another $30 million in investment from its joint-venture partner Hengtong Optic-Electric.

The deal, part of Rockley’s series E funding round, extends the partnership first signed in 2017, which saw the Shanghai-listed optical fiber and cable manufacturer lead a $42 million co-investment.

Hengtong and Rockley are now targeting what they describe as the “burgeoning” market for 400 Gb/s optical transceivers in data centers.

Transceiver focus
The Rockley-Hengtong joint venture, headquartered in Suzhou, aims to develop, manufacture, and sell 400G DR4 transceivers based around Rockley’s “LightDriver” optical engines.

Set up by former Bookham Technology founder Andrew Rickman in 2013, Rockley is primarily targeting optical link applications in data centers, although the company also released a silicon photonics platform for sensing recently.

Rockley has also set up a development partnership with the Tyndall National Institute in Cork, Ireland, and announced a year ago that it had already raised more than $100 million in aggregate funding to support its expansion.

Mahesh Karanth, the firm’s CFO, said: “This new funding provides us with significant capital to move to the next stage of our business plan. We will accelerate volume manufacturing of Rockley’s ‘LightDriver’ optical engine, and develop next-generation sensors and communications products.

“Our technology will help to meet the new connectivity requirements for data centers, supporting cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning.”

Faster switching
With data-heavy applications like AI, machine learning, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), and 5G connectivity applying more pressure to communications networks, data center operators are looking to deploy faster switching capacity.

At last month's SPIE Photonics West conference, Facebook optical technology strategist Katharine Schmidtke told delegates that the prospect of handling massive video files for AR/VR applications required another huge leap in datacom requirements.

"This isn’t just putting together the functions that we use today, but it’s putting optics together and integrating these with other functions,” she said. “Integrating the optics with the switch is one example; it’s going to be a while before this happens but that’s certainly moving in.”

Rockley says that the architecture of its LightDriver platform will help with the anticipated transition to in-package optics that promise to eliminate the need for costly, and relatively high-power electrical links.

“The LightDriver is the world’s first 400G engine supporting 1310 nm on a fully integrated, optimized waveguide platform,” claims founder and CEO Rickman. “Its tight integration with electronics enabled by advanced 2.5D packaging is key to facilitating the high bandwidth and dense optical I/O required by increasing network traffic.”

He believes that the expanded partnership with Hengtong, intended to combine Rockley’s integrated silicon photonics platform with the Chinese firm’s volume manufacturing capability, will deliver the lowest-power and most cost-effective transceiver in the market.

“It is a significant step towards furthering our mission to make photonics as pervasive as microelectronics,” added Rickman.

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