Let there be light – Inside and outside

Electronics driven by Moore’s law has revolutionized the way we do things, in our day to day life. There is electronics in everything that we touch and use today. Driven by the need to make things faster and smaller, the electronics industry has followed Moore’s law to the last letter and now are facing the limitations of device physics, preventing the industry to go lower than what is being done today.

The world is also becoming a connected world, with more people and machines getting connected to each other through the Internet, social media, machine-to-machine communication, cloud computing and the Internet of Things (IoT). All this requires enormous amount of data to be moved between a group of people or machines.

Propagation of light through the core of an optical fiber. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Propagation of light through the core of an optical fiber. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Just electronics would not be able to handle this volume of data, because of limitations in electronic devices. Also, electronic devices are highly sensitive to changes in temperature, electro-magnetic interference and fields. Electronic signals tend to loose their strength (attenuated) as they travel long distances, which is an undesired feature for communication.

Currently long range communication happens with the use of light through Fiber – called fiber optic communication. Optical communication is less prone to attenuation, as light (Laser), can travel long distances before they tend to loose strength. They are immune to distortions due to Electro-magnetic interference and fields. This makes communication with light very promising and useful.

With Fiber optic communication we are able to manage multi Gbps (Gigabit per second) communication, but the next generation networks require terabit per second (Tbps) communication, considering the amount of data that need to transferred for various applications like Social networks, IoT Applications, Video applications, etc.

One of the most promising technologies that is emerging as an alternative to electronic devices are the Photonic Integrated Circuits (PIC) and Silicon Photonic (SiP) devices. Until recently SiP and PIC were not seen as a mainstream replacement for CMOS devices, because they were mostly made using materials other than Silicon and were not easy to integrate with the CMOS devices.

Recently various industry leaders have demonstrated Photonic devices that can be built using standard CMOS fabrication methods thus enabling integration of Photonics devices into a electronic integrated circuit. This has enabled them to demonstrate Terabit per second communication between multiple devices. The following link gives more details about this

Other industry leader are working on similar technology and they have also demonstrated high speed communication inside and outside electronic devices.

They are also working towards a device that would be able to communicate with light internal to the circuit instead of electrons, enabling even faster communication inside the device, in the process realizing a true PIC.

Thus having light to communicate not only outside of the integrated circuit, having them to communicate internal to an integrated circuit would be a true enabler of high bandwidth and low latency applications.

nambiJ. U. Nambi has over 15 years experience in Electronic system and SoC design. He holds a graduate degree in Electro-optical engineering and currently CTO at Lyle Technologies, Coimbatore, India. Lyle specialize in Photonic system design and integration and build software tools for Photonic Integrated chip design.


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