Fabless semiconductor company Luxtera announced today that it has solved the longstanding problem of building advanced photonic interfaces into mass-produced silicon chips.
The company claimed that, for the first time, it is possible to integrate high-speed optical fiber interfaces in silicon devices produced in an industry-standard complementary metal-oxide semiconductor, or CMOS, fabrication process. This allows for ease of mass manufacturing using existing microprocessor manufacturing technologies that keep a cap on costs.
Linley Gwennap, principal analyst for semiconductor technology analysis firm The Linley Group, told TechNewsWorld that this is indeed a first from a product standpoint.
“Most of the research in high-speed optical fiber interfaces in silicon devices have focused on little bits and pieces,” Gwennap said. “One researcher can build a silicon laser. Another can build a detector. Someone else can process signals. Luxtera is the first company to put it all together and make it work.”
Luxtera’s CMOS Photonics technology delivers the 10 Gbit/sec optical modulation required for practical high-speed optical fiber communication. Luxtera chips are built in the same CMOS process that Luxtera’s development partner, Freescale Semiconductor, uses for mass production of their leading-edge microprocessors.
The integration of 10G photonics into regular silicon processes is considered a highly disruptive event for both the semiconductor and optics industries, because the integration of optical interfaces into VLSI chips will dramatically reduce the cost of high-speed links.
“This development of the world’s first 10G optical modulator in CMOS is a huge milestone for the Luxtera team and for the industry in general,” said Alex Dickinson, co-founder and CEO of Luxtera. “Most importantly, this clearly signals that CMOS Photonics products are just around the corner, not years in the future. We’re already far along with our product development.”
Luxtera’s semiconductor breakthrough is designed to give computer and communication OEMs the performance benefits of optical-fiber communications, delivered with the economics of silicon.
Gwennap said initially this represents an opportunity to replace some of the more expensive optical components used today at reduced costs. That said, the technology is still fairly expensive because it is early in its life cycle.
“As Luxtera gets more experience with the technology, builds some volume and brings the price down, there is an opportunity to expand optical interconnect beyond where it’s used today — which is mainly to send signals over long distances — and potentially start using optical interconnect between systems in the same room or even within a single system itself,” Gwennap said.