IBM silicon nanophotonics tech ready for commercialization
The amount of data being created and transmitted over enterprise networks continues to grow due to an explosion of new applications and services. IBM recently revealed a major breakthrough in the ability to use light instead of electrical signals to transmit information for future computing. Called silicon nanophotonics, the technology allows the integration of different optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip using sub-100nm semiconductor technology.
Silicon nanophotonics takes advantage of pulses of light for communication and provides a super highway for large volumes of data to move at rapid speeds, thus enabling the industry to keep pace with increasing demands in chip performance and computing power.
“This technology breakthrough is a result of more than a decade of pioneering research at IBM”, said Dr. John E. Kelly, Senior Vice President and Director of IBM Research. “This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications.”
The technology breakthrough allows the integration of different optical components side-by-side with electrical circuits on a single silicon chip, for the first time, in standard 90nm semiconductor fabrication. The new features of the technology include a variety of silicon nanophotonics components, such as modulators, germanium photodetectors and ultra-compact wavelength-division multiplexers to be integrated with high-performance analog and digital CMOS circuitry.
Building on its initial proof of concept in 2010, IBM has solved the key challenges of transferring the silicon nanophotonics technology into mass production. By adding a few processing modules into a high-performance 90nm CMOS fabrication line, a variety of silicon nanophotonics components such as wavelength division multiplexers (WDM), modulators, and detectors are integrated side-by-side with a CMOS electrical circuitry. This means that single-chip optical communications transceivers can be manufactured in modified conventional semiconductor foundries, thus providing significant cost reduction in potential shift toward this technology.
IBM’s CMOS nanophotonics technology demonstrates transceivers to exceed the data rate of 25Gbps per channel. In addition, the technology is capable of feeding a number of parallel optical data streams into a single fiber by utilizing compact on-chip wavelength-division multiplexing devices.
The ability to multiplex large data streams at high data rates will allow future scaling of optical communications capable of delivering terabytes of data between distant parts of computer systems. It also lowers the size of optics and energy needed to transfer the data (power per bit).