I’m writing this from the Boston airport on my way home from four straight weeks of PIC (photonic integrated circuit) related travel. It’s been a grueling but very rewarding four weeks and the big take away from this month is that there are now many more signs in the market that integrated photonics is reaching a real tipping point.
I started off March by traveling to Brussels, Belgium to attend the PIC International Conference. This was PIC International’s second year and attendance grew from 440 attendees last year to over 550 this year. This was echoed at the Optical Fiber Conference held in Los Angeles which boasted 14,500 attendees and over 663 exhibitors. The conference was packed with talks about how the industry is girding for the explosive data growth expected to be driven by IoT and 5G cellular. Another key indicator of growing momentum was a 30% increase in attendance of conference short courses meant to educate professionals on the technical aspects of photonics.
The real buzz however, came with several noteworthy news items in March. Among them was a press release by Luxtera where they announced they will be offering a high performance silicon photonics platform with TSMC. The new platform will enable system-on-chip integration of optical interconnect with CMOS logic and will be leverage TSMC’s 7nm CMOS technology. The Luxtera platform is targeting next-generation silicon photonics solutions to deliver 100G-per-lane optical interconnects, starting with 100GBase-DR and 400GBase-DR4 transceivers which they anticipate launching in 2018.
This was promptly followed by a press release from TowerJazz where they too announced they will be providing a new Silicon Photonics process targeting the Optical Transceiver Electronics market. The TowerJazz SiPho process will be based on their SiGe BiCMOS process. When you start seeing production foundries like TSMC, TowerJazz and GLOBAL FOUNDRIES (as announced late last year) getting into the market you know the significant volumes are on their way. This is big!
And lastly, of note was an offer was made by IDT to purchase GigPeak for $250M. GigPeak offers optical interfaces for communications, data centers and military and avionic modules. GigPeak had record profits for its fourth quarter and fiscal 2016 with shipments of its 40 Gbps QSFP+ and 100Gbps QSFP28 ICs for active optical cables (AOCs) and optical transceiver modules into data center customers. The company is also currently sampling driver and trans-impedance amplifier (TIA) ICs for 200 Gbit/s short-reach and long-reach PAM4 Ethernet applications.
The second week of my travels was spent on the east coast of the U.S. traveling up and down the I-90 corridor. One of the most interesting observations of that week was the uptake in the number of integrated photonics projects coming from commercial companies versus past activity which was primarily driven by universities and R&D labs. This was echoed by Twan Korthorst, CEO of PhoeniX Software, where he presented a graph at the PIC International Conference showing a shift of new PhoeniX users coming from commercial companies as opposed to academia. On a side note, PhoeniX’s OptoDesigner tool won the EPIC Award at this year’s PIC International show in the design and test category. While good news for PhoeniX, the interesting part for the reader is that more than 6000 engineers cast ballots for this award. That’s a lot of people for a nascent industry. It also explains PhoeniX’s 45% CAGR for PIC tools over the last four years.
The final week of my travels was spent in Boston at the MIT campus where I attended an AIM Photonics sponsored meetings to road map requirements for the integrated photonics ecosystem. In many cases members were excited to see road map items being accelerated forward by industry.
One of the most interesting presentations was given by Microsoft where they presented on their integrated photonics work used in Time-of-Flight (ToF) cameras and sensors. These cameras give full 3D imaging information for applications such as facial recognition security features. ToF sensors are already in the iPhone 7 and could be applied to future laptops, phones, TVs and gaming consoles. Cameras with 3D depth capabilities can be applied to a wide variety of applications such as gaming, in-air gesturing and augmented reality.
Microsoft, Apple, Intel and Google are all working to bring this ToF technology to bear. Now that would represent some real volume.
This is just the beginning as engineers are barely scratching the surface of what can be done with integrated photonics. From long haul telecommunications, RF and microwave applications, WIFI networks and data center switches, to high volume applications in automotive, mobile devices, industrial sensing and medical and bio-sensing arenas, it’s time to start placing your bets. Hang on to your hats. It’s going to be a wild ride for the next decade!
– Luxtera and TSMC Collaborate on NexGen Silicon Photonics
– TowerJazz Announces Silicon Photonics Offering
– IDT Makes Offer on GigPeak
– PhoeniX Software Selected for PIC Design & Test Award