Wednesday, 02 September 2015 02:57

Ericsson sees the light with silicon photonic integration

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An Ericsson-backed research project dubbed IRIS has produced a breakthrough silicon photonics switch designed for housing thousands of optical circuits on a single chip.

Besides breaking new ground in silicon photonic integration, the silicon photonics chip within ‘increases bandwidth, reduces cost and enables optical routing in the cloud and 5G era’, with this first chip now in the test and characterisation phase.

If successful the outcome will be major breakthrough for the industry, paving the way for a new generation of optical systems integrated in a single device.

Ericsson explains that ‘Silicon photonics uses silicon as a miniaturised optical medium for transmitting and switching data at very high speeds, which reduces power consumption and footprint, and increases capacity, which combined will lead to lower operational costs.’

The IRIS project was co-funded by the European Commission as a Specific Target Research Project (STREP) under the Seventh Framework Programme for research and development (FP7), and aims ‘to create a high-capacity and reconfigurable WDM photonic switch using silicon photonics to monolithically integrate circuits in a single chip.’

In addition, we’re told that ‘such a chip will enable network operators to enhance the network performance, increasing node capacity as required by future 5G networks and Cloud,’ and that this can be achieved ‘by high-scale integration of features, such as high-speed transmission, switching, and interconnectivity in the same chip.’

Incredibly, Ericsson is already using silicon photonics, with Ericsson’s award-winning ‘Hyperscale Datacenter System 3000’ being an example where silicon photonics technology is being implemented already. With its optical interconnect, it brings major benefits to datacenter operators in terms of total cost of ownership.

Peter Christy, Research Director at 451 Research explained: "Optical interconnection will play a critical role in data centre evolution. Silicon photonics improves the cost and power efficiency very significantly. The Ericsson cloud initiative and HDS 8000 are early movers in the commercial exploitation of silicon photonics in the datacenter, and systems like this clearly demonstrate the technology's potential."

In case you were wondering, researchers from Ericsson in Pisa have generated and filed all the relevant patent proposals.

The project consortium is led by Ericsson (Italy) and includes ST Microelectronics (Italy), CEA-LETI (France), CNIT (Italy), University of Trento (Italy), Universitat Politecnica de Valencia (Spain), Technische Universitat Wien (Austria) and Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (Republic of Korea).

You can find out more information about Project Iris here, read a factsheet here (PDF link) and the project’s first report here

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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