First All-Silicon Optical Transmitter at 100 Gbps

Silicon photonics researchers from the Opto­electronics Research Centre (ORC) at the University of Southampton have demons­trated the first all-silicon optical transmitter at 100 Gbps and beyond without the use of digital signal processing. The optical modulator almost doubles the maximum data rate of current state-of-the-art devices, demons­trating the potential for low power low-cost all-silicon solutions that avoid compli­cating fabri­cation processes with new materials that are not CMOS compatible.

The first all-silicon optical transmitter at 100 Gbps and beyond. (Source: ORC, U. Southampton)

The optical modulator is a critical component in systems serving modern information and communication technologies, not only in traditional data communication links but also in microwave photonics or chip-scale computing networks.

Ke Li, lead inventor on the tech­nology’s associated patents, says: “In contrast to previous work in the field, we have introduced a new design philosophy where photonics and electronics must be considered as a single inte­grated system in order to tackle the demanding technical challenges of this field.” Graham Reed, deputy director of the ORC, says: “Our results are based upon a fully inte­grated electronic-photonic system, not a labora­tory probed stand-alone silicon modulator. In all other work to date that does not rely on digital signal processing to recover signal integrity, inte­gration of the elec­tronics and photonics has resulted in an inferior system per­formance as compared to the performance of the indi­vidual components, resulting in a maximum data rate of approxi­mately 56 Gbps.”

“At a time when most researchers around the world are striving for a system level improve­ment of the order of five to 10 percent, our results represent close to a 100 percent improvement, so we are delighted that our design philosophy is proving suc­cessful. This is why we believe these results are important, as they can change the way designers configure datacom trans­mission systems of the future”, Reed added.

The silicon modulator was fabri­cated through Southampton’s Cornerstone research fabrication foundry service, and inte­grated with bespoke modulator drivers that are designed in-house and fabri­cated at the TSMC electronics foundry in Taiwan. Fabri­cation and inte­gration work is carried out at the University of Southampton’s Mount­batten cleanroom complex. (Source: U. Southampton)

Reference: K. Li et al.: Electronic–photonic convergence for silicon photonics transmitters beyond 100 Gbps on–off keying, Optica 7, 1514 (2020); DOI: 10.1364/OPTICA.411122

Link: Optoelectronics Research Centre ORC, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK

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