Lightwave Logic champions polymer-based modulators

Electro-optic polymers could help other optical materials become more successful, according to Lightwave Logic, a development stage company.

Lightwave Logic has developed a high-performance Mach-Zehnder polymer modulator suitable for 50Gb/s modulation, the company announced at ECOC 2017 in Gothenburg Sweden. This breakthrough will enable arrays of 4 x 50G polymer modulators, which can be combined with PAM-4 encoding to build 400Gb/s data centre optics. 

Speaking at the ECOC Market Focus Forum, Lightwave Logic’s CEO Michael Lebby claimed that polymers could break down technology cost barriers for integrated photonics and enable transceivers to meet the ‘dollar per gigabit’ target for data centre transceivers originally promoted by Facebook.

“We feel polymers will be critical to next-generation photonics platforms,” he said.

Polymers have a long history in telecom with US government agencies and industrial players – Akzo Nobel, AT&T Labs, Du Pont, IBM, Intel and more – collectively investing hundreds of millions of dollars to develop electro-optic polymers in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the interest, no commercial products were launched and interest waned.

Temperature stability held polymers back, Lebby acknowledged. Telecom operators demanded compliance with Telcordia GR-468 Generic Reliability Assurance Requirements for Optoelectronic Devices Used in Telecommunications, which were designed to ensure a minimum ten-year lifetime and require thermal reliability up to 100°C, a condition that electro-optic polymers find hard to meet.

The thermal stability problem hasn’t necessarily gone away, but the market has changed, Lebby contends. While polymers are still unlikely to find acceptance in telecom applications, the datacom world is more open to new technologies that help them meet their cost-performance targets, he said. Temperature specifications are more reasonable because the data centre environment is well controlled, product lifetimes are three to five years rather than 10 to 20, and photonic integration is essential.

Lebby joined Lightwave Logic earlier this year to help the company move from research to product development (see Dr Michael Lebby to become CEO of Lightwave Logic). The company is recruiting engineers and upgrading its test and characterisation facilities and expects to see “steady stream of improvements to our polymer platform over the next year”.

The technology unveiled at ECOC is a waveguide-based Mach Zender modulator capable of modulation speeds up to 50Gb/s that lays the foundation for products compliant with 400 Gigabit Ethernet. Lightwave Logic plans to partner with transceiver vendors to bring the technology to market.

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