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HiLight awarded $2M to develop ultra-low-power PHY ICs

UK start-up HiLight Semiconductor has been awarded a €1.774 million ($2 million) grant from the European Commission to develop a new generation of ultra-low power integrated circuits for 100G optical transmission.

A specialist in sub-micron CMOS, HiLight is developing physical layer ICs for optical transceiver modules within data centres – expecting that its chips will displace those made in the more expensive and power hungry silicon-germanium or BiCMOS technology typically used today.

Reducing power consumption, especially in data centres, would have a very beneficial impact on the environment, according to HiLight, and optical analysts at LightCounting agree.

‘The hyperscale data centre market requires every effort to reduce power consumption and LightCounting believes HiLight’s CMOS solutions could make a vital impact on power consumption within data centres,’ the analyst firm said via a press release statement.

The grant will enable HiLight to expand the design teams at its Southampton and Bristol design centres, giving it more brain power to develop the 100G chips. Initial samples are expected to be available in early 2017.

Unlike many young start-ups, HiLight has already released several products. The company has shipped more than 15 million chips and expects to reach the 20-million milestone before year-end.

The 100G chips under development will build on HiLight’s recently launched low-power CMOS chipset for 10Gb/s SFP+ modules, which include a highly sensitive 10Gb/s avalanche photodiode (APD) trans-impedance amplifier (TIA) for the 10G-PON market. The HLR10G1 11.3Gbps APD TIA is now sampling to customers.

Earlier products include the HLC10V0, which combines a 11.3Gb/s VCSEL and DML driver IC with integrated limiting amplifier receiver, and the HLR10G0 12Gb/s TIA for 10 Gigabit Ethernet and 12G CPRI mobile fronthaul applications, which are already in production.

Derek Hutchins, VP Engineering, commented: ‘We’ve built a world class CMOS design team at HiLight and successfully developed a family of products up to 12Gb/s, so we’re delighted that the European Commission has recognised HiLight’s abilities to develop integrated circuits in advanced CMOS nodes for 25Gb/s and 100Gb/s optical communication that will benefit the whole industry by saving power and cost.’

HiLight Semiconductor was founded in 2012 by veterans of several previous start-ups. Executive chairman Gary Steele previously started no fewer than five fabless chip companies, including four in the communications space: Acapella (sold to Semtech), Microcosm (sold to Conexant), Phyworks (sold to Maxim) and Nanotech Semiconductor (sold to Gennum).

HiLight is also actively seeking technical and commercial cooperation opportunities to develop products for speeds beyond 100G.

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