With new applications like mobile video, virtual reality and the Internet of things, ever-faster data networks are being rolled out, and each wave is driving even more data through optical fibre networks. Data consumption rises 30-50 % yearly. “If conventional technology solutions continue to be used, cost and power consumption will also rise up to 50 % every year, and that’s unacceptable,” says James Regan, CEO of EFFECT Photonics, the company that coordinated the EU-funded RocketChip project. To boost network capacity, planners are moving to deploy as many as 40 streams of different coloured light through each fibre. Each colour is a channel that carries its own data, a technology known as dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM). DWDM has been proven to boost capacity at the core of networks. However, to reach the low cost and high volume required at the edges of the network where connections between cloud computing data centres and mobile phone towers occur, a solution must be found to implement this complex manipulation of light at reduced cost without increasing the network’s power consumption. Giving way to optical chips for data transfer via light To address this issue, RocketChip has developed optical system-on-chip technology that implements multiple complex light functions on to a single tiny chip. This will reduce cost, size and power, thus enabling DWDM technology to be deployed at the network’s edges. The development and production of high-speed, cost-efficient DWDM integrated optics are packaged in very compact modules to serve the customer in several potential telecom applications. The integrated optics solutions have been developed to fit on modules with very compact physical sizes, the so-called small form factors. The compressed volume and increase in speed per channel associated with small form factors bring important engineering challenges to transceiver design. More advanced assembly techniques are required, and the hardware performance at higher speed needs to be guaranteed. “All these challenges have been addressed by RocketChip, and we’re looking forward to testing our last design iteration and sharing all our exciting findings,” notes Regan. A step change in technology solutions for exploding bandwidth needs There’s a trend towards densification and cloudification in the telecoms market because of the transition to 5G telecoms infrastructure. “In our sector, this implies that as capacity demand increases with such a transition, digital optics need to move towards the edges of the network, driven by the need to centralise compute power,” he explains. Therefore, optical transceivers previously aimed at inter-data-centre communication will now also be used to feed the edges of the telecoms network. “The convergence between data and telecoms networks is an excellent example of how technology from one domain can be successfully applied to another if the cost suits the application.” RocketChip explored these exploitation opportunities. “RocketChip will enable EFFECT Photonics – a spin-out of the prestigious Eindhoven University of Technology – to become a leader in the next generation of photonic integrated circuits,” concludes Regan. “EFFECT Photonics is at the core of the PhotonDelta ecosystem as the industrial standard-bearer for photonics exploitation.” PhotonDelta is a European network of companies, knowledge institutions and governments aimed at accelerating integrated photonics solutions.
RocketChip, network, chip, DWDM, telecoms, bandwidth, optical chip, integrated optics, small form factors, wavelength division multiplexing