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In 2006, Intel and the University of California, Santa Barbara successfully developed the world's first electronic hybrid silicon laser fabricated using standard silicon processes. Since then, the application of silicon photonics technology in optical devices has become the focus of research in the industry.
1. What is silicon photonics technology?
Silicon photonics technology is a low-cost, high-speed optical communication technology based on silicon photonics. It uses laser beams instead of electronic signals to transmit data. Intel Labs realized silicon photonic-based data connections for the first time through integrated lasers with hybrid silicon laser technology. .
Silicon photonics technology uses standard silicon to enable optical information transmission and reception between computers and other electronic devices. Unlike transistors, which rely mainly on ordinary silicon materials, the basic material used in silicon photonics technology is glass. Since light is transparent to glass and does not interfere, it is theoretically possible to transmit signals by integrating an optical waveguide in the glass, which is suitable for large-scale communication between a computer and a multi-core. Compared to traditional processes, silicon photonics has a huge advantage. It supports higher transfer rates and allows data transfer between processor cores to be 100 times faster or higher. At the same time, the use of silicon photonic technology can greatly reduce the volume of silicon light, and reduce material cost, chip cost, and packaging cost. For this reason, silicon light technology has attracted widespread attention in the industry.
Second, the status quo of silicon light industry
The industry is very optimistic about the prospects of silicon light technology applied to optical devices, including Intel, Luxtera, Acacia, Rockley and other industry giants already have the ability to design and manufacture silicon optical chips. At present, there are more and more manufacturers of silicon optical chip products worldwide.
However, silicon photonics technology is still in its infancy. From the perspective of market size, the market for silicon optical modules in 2017 is less than $1 billion, of which the market size of silicon optical chips is less than $400 million. Obviously, the silicon photonics industry chain has not really formed a scale effect, and it will take time for the large-scale application of silicon photonics technology.
Third, the future of the silicon light industry chain
The future of the silicon industry is undoubtedly clear. With the continuous maturity of 400G technology, network construction has shown new features such as high-speed traffic growth, 5G network intensive and data center construction needs. In this way, the demand for optical modules will increase day by day, and the market size will continue to increase. As a highly integrated technology solution, silicon light technology will surely win the demand. Secondly, the highly integrated features of silicon photonics technology are not limited to the field of optical communication. Currently, high-performance computers, telecommunications, sensors, life sciences, and quantum computing have high-end applications for silicon technology.
The silicon material is rich in source, low in cost, and has good mechanical properties and high temperature resistance, which is convenient for chip processing and packaging. The manufacture of silicon optical chips by means of CMOS technology platforms that have been commercialized on a large scale by integrated circuits can effectively solve the problem of weak manufacturing capability and insufficient process capability of high-end optoelectronic chips in China. However, silicon materials are indirect bandgap semiconductor materials, which need to solve the problem of silicon-based light source processing and integration of many optical components; silicon materials do not have linear electro-optic effect and photo-detection function, and also need to solve the problem of modulator processing and silicon epitaxial growth. In addition, silicon optical chips have extremely high requirements on the bandwidth, integration, performance, power consumption, reliability and cost of high-end optical devices, which has made silicon optical chips have been a roadblock for China's optical communication industry for many years.
Silicon photonics technology has great advantages and superior performance, but there are also many problems. In the future, the silicon light industry will be deployed on a large scale. At present, silicon photonics technology has reached the tipping point before the large-scale growth, and its market size in data centers and several other new applications will reach billions of dollars by 2025.