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Board-level optical interconnects worth $5.6B by 2022 says CIR report

An entirely new class of standards-compliant optical boards will provide massive backplane capacity for routers and switches compared to the conventional electrical backplanes and motherboards of today, with the market for such “board-level” optical interconnects growing from $696 million in 2017 to reach $5.6 billion by 2022.

That’s the conclusion of the latest report from industry analyst firm CIR titled, “Opportunities in Board-Level Optical Interconnects: Optics-Enabled Circuit Boards, Optical Engines and Optical Backplanes”.

The huge amount of data flowing internally in servers, routers and switches can no longer be handled by copper interconnects, the analysts assert. This demand is currently being met by semi-proprietary optical links and optical engines, and some active optical cable (AOC) products. CIR envisages that standardised optical boards could emerge as part of a larger trend towards embedded optics.

“CIR believes that if the industry can arrive at standards for optical engines then the market can potentially reach $1.2 billion in sales by 2022. The absence of standards has held back the market, however, and caused major optical components firms to exit the optical engine space or avoid it altogether,” the firm reported.

Optical backplanes have been used for supercomputing applications for many years. However, they are finding a new market in routers and switches to support higher capacities. By 2022 revenues from optical backplanes will have reached $864 million, according to CIR.

CIR points out that the current generation of optical interconnect products are very expensive compared to their electrical equivalents, however. To reduce costs, a considerable amount of technological development is required, the firm asserts. Most early products are based on glass or polymer fibre media. Future products will reduce costs and increase interconnect densities by using waveguides, polymer optics and free space optics

Taking the optical board concept mainstream will initially give an advantage to firms that have been dabbling in this space for years. These firms include IBM, Cisco, Juniper, and Oracle (the inheritor of Sun Microsystems’ technology). In the next few years, CIR believes that start-ups will emerge to challenge these giants with optical boards based on new materials, free-space optics and innovative laser designs.

CIR’s report is designed to identify and quantify the technology and market opportunities in this space. The report also offers an assessment of the product and market strategies of key optical firms active in this area. Suppliers covered in the report include Amphenol FCI, Ericsson, Finisar, Foxconn, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Luxtera, Mellanox, Molex, Oracle, Reflex Photonics and Samtec.

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