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Photonics in Silicon R&D Toward Tb/s

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

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By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor

The client:server computing paradigm colloquially referred to as the “Cloud” results in a need for extremely efficient Cloud server hardware, and from first principles the world can save a lot of energy resources if servers run on photonics instead of electronics. Though the potential for cost-savings is well known, the challenge of developing cost-effective integrated photonics solutions remains. Today, discrete compound-semiconductor chips function as transmitters, multiplexers (MUX), and receivers of photons, while many global organizations pursue the vision of lower-cost integrated silicon (Si) photonics circuits.

Work on photonics chips—using light as logic elements in an integrated circuit—built in silicon (Si) has accelerated recently with announcements of new collaborative research and development (R&D) projects. Leti, an institute of CEA Tech, announced the launch of a European Commission Horizon 2020 “COSMICC” project to enable mass commercialization of Si-photonics-based transceivers to meet future data-transmission requirements in data centers and super computing systems.

The Leti-coordinated COSMICC project will combine CMOS electronics and Si-photonics with innovative fiber-attachment techniques to achieve 1 Tb/s data rates. These scalable solutions will provide performance improvement an order of magnitude better than current VCSELs transceivers, and the COSMICC-developed technology will address future data-transmission needs with a target cost per bit that traditional wavelength-division multiplexing (WDM) transceivers cannot meet. The project’s 11 partners from five countries are focusing on developing mid-board optical transceivers with data rates up to 2.4 Tb/s with 200 Gb/s per fiber using 12 fibers. The devices will consume less than 2 pJ/bit. and cost approximately 0.2 Euros/Gb/s.

Figure 1: Schematic of COSMICC on-board optical transceiver at 2.4 Tb/s using 50 Gbps/wavelength, 4 CWDM wavelengths per fiber, 12 fibers for transmission and 12 fibers for reception. (Source: Leti)

A first improvement will be the introduction of a silicon-nitride (SiN) layer that will allow development of temperature-insensitive MUX/DEMUX devices for coarse WDM operation, and will serve as an intermediate wave-guiding layer for optical input/output. The partners will also evaluate capacitive modulators, slow-wave depletion modulators with 1D periodicity, and more advanced approaches. These include GeSi electro-absorption modulators with tunable Si composition and photonic crystal electro-refraction modulators to make micrometer-scale devices. In addition, a hybrid III-V on Si laser will be integrated in the SOI/SiN platform in the more advanced transmitter circuits.

Meanwhile in the United States, Coventor, Inc. is collaborating with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) on photonics modeling. MIT is a key player in the AIM Photonics program, a federally funded, public-private partnership established to advance domestic capabilities in integrated photonic technology and strengthen high-tech U.S.-based manufacturing. Coventor will provide its SEMulator3D process modeling platform to model the effect of process variation in the development of photonic integrated components.

“Coventor’s technical expertise in predicting the manufacturability of advanced technologies is outstanding. Our joint collaboration with Coventor will help us develop new design methods for achieving high yield and high performance in integrated photonic applications,” said Professor Duane Boning of MIT. Boning is an expert at modeling non-linear effects in processing, many years after working on the semiconductor industry’s reference model for the control of chemical-mechanical planarization (CMP) processing.

—E.K.