IBM team to demo 160-Gbit optical chipset

March 28, 2007
MARCH 28, 2007 -- At the 2007 Optical Fiber Conference, IBM scientists will reveal a prototype optical transceiver chipset they say is capable of reaching speeds at least 8x faster than currently available optical components.

MARCH 28, 2007 -- At the 2007 Optical Fiber Conference, IBM (search for IBM Research) scientists will reveal a prototype optical transceiver chipset they say is capable of reaching speeds at least 8x faster than currently available optical components.

The breakthrough could transform how data is accessed, shared, and used across the Web for corporate and consumer networks. IBM reports that the transceiver is fast enough to reduce the download time for a typical high-definition feature-length film to a single second compared to 30 minutes or more over the highest-speed connection available today.

The ability to move information at speeds of 160 Gbits—or 160 billion bits of information in a single second—provides a glimpse of a new era of high-speed connectivity that could transform communications, computing, and entertainment. Optical networking offers the potential to dramatically improve data transfer rates by speeding the flow of data using light pulses, instead of sending electrons over wires.

"The explosion in the amount of data being transferred, when downloading movies, TV shows, music, or photos, is creating demand for greater bandwidth and higher speeds in connectivity," says T.C. Chen, vice president, Science & Technology, IBM Research. "Greater use of optical communications is needed to address this issue. We believe our optical transceiver technology may provide the answer."

As the amount of data transmitted over networks continues to grow, researchers have been looking for ways to make the use of optical signals more practical. The ability to use these signals could offer previously unheard of amounts of bandwidth and enhanced signal fidelity compared to current electrical data links. By shrinking and integrating the components into one package, and building them with standard low-cost, high-volume chip manufacturing techniques, IBM is looking to make optical connectivity viable for widespread use.

For example, the technology could be integrated onto PCBs to allow the components within an electronic system, such as a PC or set-top box, to communicate much faster, significantly enhancing the performance of the system itself.

To achieve this new level of integration in the chipset, IBM researchers built an optical transceiver with driver and receiver ICs in current CMOS technology, the same standard, high-volume, low-cost technology used for most chips today. They then coupled it with other necessary optical components made in more exotic materials, such as indium phosphide (InP) and gallium arsenide (GaAs), into one, integrated package 3.25×5.25 mm in size (for comparison, that's about 1/15 the size of a dime, IBM says).

This compact design provides both a high number of communications channels as well as very high speeds per channel, resulting in an amount of information transmitted per unit area of card space taken up by the chipset (the ultimate measure of viability for practical use) that is the highest ever. This transceiver chipset is designed to enable low-cost optics by attaching to an optical PCB employing densely spaced polymer waveguide channels using mass assembly processes.

The report on this work, "160-Gb/s, 16-Channel Full-Duplex, Single-Chip CMOS Optical Transceiver," by C.L. Schow, F.E. Doany, O. Liboiron-Ladouceur, C. Baks, D.M. Kuchta, L. Schares, R. John, and J.A. Kash of IBM's New York-based T.J. Watson Research Center will be presented on March 29 at the OFC/NFOEC 2007 in Anaheim, CA. This work was partially funded by Defense Advanced Research Project Agency through the Chip to Chip Optical Interconnect (C2OI) program.


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