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Smart Photonics 'shifts gears' with new loan and updated design kit

06 Jul 2021

Photonic integrated circuit platform now includes faster modulators and widely tunable lasers.

The indium phosphide (InP) wafer foundry Smart Photonics is set to scale up production of more complex photonic integrated circuit (PIC) chips, thanks in part to a new €13 million loan.

The Dutch firm, based at the “Brainport” technology cluster in Eindhoven, said the additional finance, agreed with Rabobank, will strengthen its role in the photonics ecosystem and help to expand its customer base.

It comes as the firm releases the latest version of its process design kit (PDK). The “Gen2” PDK is said to feature better electrical isolation between the components on the chip, meaning that a larger number of lasers, amplifiers, and passive components can be included in a single PIC.

More specifically, thanks to new semi-insulating substrate material, the foundry firm’s PIC wafers can now offer both electro-absorption (EAM) and Mach-Zehnder interferometer (MZI) modulators operating beyond 25 GBaud.

EAMs are typically used in short-reach links, while MZIs are usually found in long-haul networks.

The new platform is also able to accommodate widely tunable lasers covering up to 75 nm, with linewidths in the region of 100 kHz.

Faster turnaround
Smart Photonics’ CTO Luc Augustin said in a company announcement: “The newly released PDK offers more mature manufacturing data, including fabrication tolerances, allowing to include yield considerations, thus improving the design cycle and giving customers a far quicker turnaround on the desired design outcome.”

The additional capabilities are regarded by the company as an important stepping stone towards even higher-performance modulators and lasers for coherent applications, with Smart Photonics also aiming to deliver a fully flexible integration platform for O-band communications next year.

In a webinar presentation detailing the new PDK capabilities, Augustin said that the new PDK was developed in response to industry demand for cost-effective, scalable solutions to meet fast-growing demand for bandwidth in the 5G era.

A critical difference in the new approach is that all of the electrically active components - such as contacts and modulators - must be accessed from the top side of the wafer, because the substrate no longer features a metallized layer on its back side.

Commenting on the Rabobank loan, company CFO Maarten Wellens added: “Currently we are shifting gears in our plan to become the leading foundry and development partner for integrated photonics.

“With this new financing we can accelerate the investment in our manufacturing facilities, new equipment, and the needed know-how to keep our leading position. We are looking forward to support an expanding customer base from [the] proof-of-concept phase up to full production.”

The latest support comes almost exactly a year after Smart Photonics, which was founded in 2012, closed a €35 million round of series C venture finance.

Smart Photonics webinar outlining "Gen2" PDK:

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