Before silicon photonics can fulfil its commercial potential – providing low-cost, high-speed optical devices for connecting servers and switches inside data centres – it must overcome many challenges. One is getting the chips made. The technology is well established, but the manufacturing processes have yet to reach a level of maturity sufficient to enable silicon photonics to make a seamless transition to industrial-scale production.
The optical communications market is undergoing a seismic shift. This is driven in part by the emerging role of internet content providers who have established themselves not only as leading users of interconnect technology, but also as a disruptive force aggressively transitioning the market toward a fast-paced cloud, software-driven, and data centre-optimised design model. The widespread adoption of cloud-based services is leading to a tremendous increase in deployed capacity and a fast ramp-up of 100 Gigabit Ethernet, small form factor, short-reach interconnects.
At a time when internet giants are demanding faster and cheaper optical networking products for their data centres, silicon photonics has yet to deliver. At this year’s Optical Fiber Conference (OFC) in Los Angeles, Facebook network architect, Yuval Bachar, again called for optical links priced at $1 per gigabit running over singlemode fibre. Yet commercial development of silicon photonics products isn’t progressing fast enough to keep up with the industry’s desires.
Silicon photonics-based products are coming to market after more than a decade of development work. But the optical component industry continues to debate the significance of the technology.
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