Intel’s Silicon Photonics is finally in production after over 15 years of R&D

The bandwidth reducing technology is now shipping in the form of 100G optical transceivers

Intel logo

Intel has announced that it has finally started volume production of its Silicon Photonics technology after over 15 years of R&D.

Announced on stage at the Intel developer Forum in San francisco, Diane Bryant, the firm's executive vide president of its datacentre group, said Silicon Photonics is now in volume production in the form of two optical transceiver products.

"We see a future where silicon photonics optical input-output is everywhere in the data center," said Bryant during the keynote.

These "small form-factor, high speed, and low power consumption products" will arrive in the form of the 100G PSM4, which stands for "Parallel Single Mode fiber 4-lane", and the 100G CWDM4, which stands for "Coarse Wavelength Division Multiplexing 4-lane".

These are the first of Intel's silicon photonics communication chips and will transfer data at 100 gigabits per second, roughly 100 times faster than home Wi-Fi. Bryant said there will also be a next-generation version that will quadruple that to 400Gbps "within a couple of years".

Bryant added that these two products are targeted for use in data communications applications, in particular for switch-to-switch optical interconnects in datacentres.

Silicon Photonics aims to overcome bandwidth, density, weight and energy efficiency issues, which are posed by today's infrastructure, the majority of which runs on copper cables that already struggle to hit 25Gbps.

Silicon Photonics works by combining the manufacturing scale and capability of silicon with the power of light onto a single chip. It will allow us to build silicon-based components that can transmit and receive optical signals, moving large amounts of information at 100 gigabit-per-second over long distances of up to several kilometers on fiber optic cables.

Intel is touting Silicon Photonics as "a combination of two of the most important inventions of the 20th century", that is, the Silicon integrated circuit and the semiconductor laser. With this combination, light has been integrated onto Intel's silicon platform, taking advantage of the bandwidth and reach of optical connectivity, on the scale and technology capability of silicon.

The announcement that the Silicon Photonics products are already being deployed to connect switches in large datacentres marks a major milestone as the commercialisation and high-volume deployment of silicon photonics has been anticipated by the industry for years.  

Intel now believes the market is ready for its new optics technology because not only are datacentres are growing and it will "address the cabling nightmare", but it will use less power with the most cost-effective technology and implementation.

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