For the bandwidth hungry internet, the electrical communication over wire is severe limitation for GHz and above frequency not only off-chip but also on-chip. The chip-to-chip and inter-chip data transfer need optical interconnect to rise the speed of computing as well as communication to serve the needs of today's demanding high-definition media rich applications. Silicon is not so good material for converting electrical signal into light and vice versa. But the silicon is best material for mass manufacturing high speed computing chips. Researchers now able to integrate light emitter and light receivers which can work seamlessly with electrical signal on silicon wafer. They (silicon foundries) add bond III-V semiconductor materials for laser emission and epitaxially overgrow Germanium on top of silicon to detect light. A complex procedure!!.
Intel, Cisco and Mellanox are said to be leading in offering Silicon photonics based devices and systems in the market. The other players include Lightwire, Luxtera, and Chiral Photonics.
MarketsandMarkets has forecasted the total Silicon Photonics market is expected to be worth $2.02 Billion by 2015 with a CAGR of 78.2% from 2010 to 2015.
Mellanox has acquired privately held IPtronics A/S by paying approximately $47.5 million. IPtronics’ high-speed transmitter and receiver devices to help Mellanox in offering 100Gb and beyond communication solutions. IPtronics offers Multichannel Vertical Cavity Surface-Emitting Laser (VCSEL) Drivers, Modulator Drivers (MD) and Transimpedance Amplifiers (TIA).
Mellanox has also recently also acquired Kotura at a price of approximately $82 million. Mellanox says with over 120 granted or pending patents in CMOS photonics and packaging design, Kotura has made a number of ground breaking innovations in optical interconnects by integrating multiple high speed active and passive optical functions onto a silicon chip.
According to LightCounting, 100 Gigabit Ethernet transceiver sales are expected to grow from $144 million in 2012 to almost $700 million in 2017 (at 36% CAGR). Silicon photonics are required at the speed of 100G and above.
The spokesperson from FPGA vendor Altera told this writer, they are going to use on-chip silicon photonics in their future FPGA ICs. But the commercial availability of such device is anticipated in year 2015 afterwards.
There is one more interesting startup venture in silicon photonics called SiOnyx. SiOnyx uses something called black silicon for silicon photonics applications, where the material called black silicon (processed version of silicon) is more sensitive to light and infrared waves.