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Silicon photonics (SiPh) has been a promising technology for more than 20 years, but it has only recently achieved mainstream status in both the datacom and telecom sectors. SiPh transceivers already account for a quarter of the revenues of the overall transceiver market. Ovum expects this proportion to grow to nearly 40% by 2024. The primary driver of SiPh market development is the growth of the data center intra-connect market.

The SiPh promise has been to transform boutique and expensive optical manufacturing techniques to scale CMOS manufacturing economics. The additional allure is in its smaller form factors and lower power draw. The historical challenges have been getting silicon-based solutions to emit, modulate, and detect light. Manufacturing yields have also been a challenge.

The industry has moved forward and focused on enabling hybrid optical/electrical chips, typically, with a subset of transceiver functions. SiPh can be co-packaged with InP lasers, indium gallium arsenide, or silicon on germanium detectors and digital signal processors.

The SiPh market in telecom and datacom transceiver solutions is now worth more than $1bn. Further growth is projected (see Figure 1), driven by the industry's desire to lower costs and reduce power consumption.

Figure 1: Revenues from SiPh portion of 100G, 200G, and 400G transceivers, 2018–24Revenues from SiPh portion of 100G 200G and 400G transceivers 201824

Source: Ovum

 

Intel has shipped over 1 million 100G transceivers using SiPh. The company is targeting 400G and has a long-term vision of replacing electrical I/O with optical I/O on its processor chips. Cisco provided a major market boost with the acquisition of SiPh specialist Luxtera. Cisco will have direct control of a key cost input and more direct control of the transmission technology roadmap. Juniper, with its acquisition of Aurrion, has entered the SiPh arena and intends to participate in a merchant market via a contract manufacturing partner.

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