14 Mar 2013
Venture-backed Canadian firm now targeting data center interconnect applications.
Ottawa-based OneChip Photonics, a start-up that has developed photonic integrated circuits (PICs) for optical communications networks, has signed manufacturing agreements with two compound semiconductor foundry firms.
The agreements with UK-headquartered IQE and California’s Global Communication Semiconductors (GCS) coincide with the launch of a new family of devices aimed at the fast-growing data center optical interconnects market.
OneChip’s 100 Gb/s PICs, which integrate all of the functions needed for an optical transceiver onto a single indium phosphide (InP) chip, with the company claiming that the technology will enable transceiver manufacturers to produce high-speed, low-power and small-size modules for data center interconnects (DCIs).
Jim Hjartarson, the CEO of OneChip Photonics, said in a statement announcing the products: “OneChip can provide transceiver and system manufacturers with the integrated solutions that they need to meet their cost, power, size and speed requirements, without all of the problems inherent with silicon photonics solutions.”
While proponents of silicon photonics maintain that the integration of devices compatible with a CMOS manufacturing process is central to the future of the optical communications sector, it remains the case that silicon is inherently incapable of producing useful laser light, or efficiently detecting it in the 1310 nm region.
OneChip Photonics corporate video:
Escalating energy costs
Device developers have been able to produce hybrid silicon/compound semiconductor chips that are designed to combine the performance of III-V materials with the volume manufacturability of silicon, but those technologies remain in their infancy at the same time that data centers require faster performance to meet rising demand for data, as well as better efficiencies to rein in escalating energy costs.
One way in which to meet the data demand is to shift from the current standard of 850 nm optics based on VCSELs to the longer-wavelength lasers, where DFBs support the use of wavelength multiplexing to provide 100 Gb/s links. The problem is that existing 100 Gb/s transceiver technologies are designed for much longer-range telecom links and would be prohibitively expensive for data centers.
Quoted in OneChip’s release, the founder and CEO of analyst firm LightCounting Vladimir Kozlov said: “Integration of optics and electronics on one chip holds strong promise for providing low-power, cost-effective 100 Gbps interface modules for data center applications. These attributes will be important in this high-volume market. In fact, this market is only going to be high volume if low power and low cost products are available.”
Lightcounting has already predicted that the market for 100 Gbps Ethernet transceivers will represent one of the fastest-growing segments within optical communications over the next five years, with the market expected to swell from $144 million last year to nearly $700 million by 2017.
As well as featuring all of the active optical components required by a transceiver, such as a DFB laser, electro-absorption modulator and waveguide photodetector in a single InP device, OneChip points out that the material also provides the ideal basis for the high-speed electronics needed, such as transimpedance amplifiers and modulator drivers.
And while InP wafers remain far more expensive to produce than silicon, the company adds: “The silicon photonics dream of leveraging high-volume electronic chip production, while combining photonics and electronics onto the same substrate, is ironically best realized in InP.”
Crucially, the manufacturing process developed by OneChip does not depend on any costly epitaxial re-growth stages – important for a market as cost-sensitive as that for DCIs.
IQE and GCS will produce the PIC devices on 4-inch InP wafer substrates, giving OneChip the ability to meet volume demand. Of the four different types of 100 Gb/s PIC developed by the Canadian company, two are already available for partner testing, with the third to become available during Q2 and the fourth before the end of the year.