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IBM achieves 25Gbit/s photonics breakthrough

Shines a light into the future of chip development
Mon Dec 10 2012, 14:45
IBM unveils its latest nanophotonics chip

COMPUTING GIANT IBM has made a breakthrough in nanophotonics research that it claimed will enable it to integrate optical components with electrical circuits on silicon chips.

IBM's nanophotonics researchers have been looking at using photons - quantum packets of light - to transfer signals within a silicon chip. Now the firm says it has made a breakthrough in sub-100nm chip geometry that allows optical components to be built alongside traditional semiconductor circuits that use electrons to transmit signals.

IBM said its 90nm process node was able to produce chips that have optical channels with bandwidths greater than 25Gbit/s per channel. The firm also said the nanophotonic features can feed multiple parallel data streams on a single fibre by using wavelength division multiplexing.

As IBM pitched the development as something that will benefit the highly marketable 'big data' market, the firm said multiplexing technology will enable its designers to scale up the 25Gbit/s bandwidth in the future. IBM claimed it could be used to transfer terabytes of data traffic to distant parts of computer systems.

John Kelly, SVP and director of IBM Research said, "This technology breakthrough is a result of more than a decade of pioneering research at IBM. This allows us to move silicon nanophotonics technology into a real-world manufacturing environment that will have impact across a range of applications."

IBM isn't the only chipmaker looking at photons to transfer signals in chips. Chip vendors are getting close to the limits of what they can do with traditional electronic circuits, and while photons won't replace electrons in chips anytime soon, the research is vital to ensure that chip technology continues to scale into the next decade at a similar rate as it has done in the past.

IBM said it will present the technology in a paper titled "A 90nm CMOS Integrated Nano-Photonics Technology for 25Gbps WDM Optical Communications Applications" at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting later this week. µ


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