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IBM's optical chipset is not only fast, but also tiny
DARPA helps fund IBM's blazing optical chipset

IBM scientists said they will demonstrate this week at the 2007 Optical Fiber Conference a prototype optical transceiver chipset capable of reaching speeds at least eight times faster than optical components available today. The chipset is able to move information at blazing speeds of 160 Gigabits per second by using light pulses to speed the flow of data, instead of sending electrons over wires.

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, according to IBM. Furthermore, the technology could be integrated onto printed circuit boards to allow the components within an electronic system – such as a PC or set top box – to communicate much faster, dramatically 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 integrated circuits 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 only 3.25 by 5.25 millimeters in size.

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 printed circuit board employing densely spaced polymer waveguide channels using mass assembly processes.

“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,” said Dr. 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.”

This work was partially funded by Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) through the Chip to Chip Optical Interconnect (C2OI) program.





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