Silicon Microphotonics – The Internet of the Future?

The technology for silicon microphotonics has been around for decades; the problem lies in the ability to produce the optoelectronics in a mass-market, low cost fashion. This branch of technology deals with directing light at a microscopic scale. At least two different materials are used to squeeze the light and ‘Fresnel equations’ are used to direct the light beam.

Since the technology is optical based, it will be awhile before it is seen at people’s homes. Businesses with full optic-fiber networks will be the first to enjoy speeds up to 1000 times faster than what is currently being used.


The Microphotonic Advantage

Besides the ability to increase bandwidth, other advantages include lower heat distribution, less power consumption and more noise reduction. These are all great advantages for biotechnology, medical and design firms that require a lot of data to transfer over the network at breakneck speeds. Even though the technology is there and the need is there, the question remains: why are these super-powered networks not being used?

There are no standards created for this type of network. Third-party software and hardware companies do not have a common criterion to build around. The basic make-light-move-through-the-fiber optics is sound, but how the software will control the switches, routers and amplifiers are not yet defined.

In fact, technology is moving at such a speed that microphotonics are now becoming nanophotonics. The basic principles of light transferring data is being developed faster than the ability to use the technology.

The Microphotonics Center posted the agenda for an April 2013 meeting discussing a interconnection hierarchy. They stated, “The 2013 Spring Meeting of the Microphotonics Center Industry Consortium will examine the drivers and timelines for the commercial entry of integrated microphotonic components at each level of the interconnection hierarchy. Particular attention will be given to analysis of the level-to-level technology transition path. The path from network fiber to the data center AOC has not been iterative. The penetration of microphotonics to the backplane and board levels may be even more disruptive with significant barriers of low cost, high component volume and compatibility with electronic design.”

It is clear that silicon microphotonics may not get the chance it deserves.