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Silicon Photonics

How Photonics Works
See the video tutorial to learn how an email message is routed through the photonic realm of an optical network.

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Building a Faster Information Highway
Just as transistor count on a chip continues to double every couple of years, Internet traffic increases exponentially, sometimes even more frequently.

Three optical filters on a tiny piece of siliconIn recent years, fiber optics has emerged as the replacement technology for copper-based communication or broadband networks. Using light, these networks offer greater capacity and ability to scale to accommodate rich media and other bandwidth-intensive transmissions.

As you would expect, fiber optic networks are also considerably more expensive to build and maintain than today's copper wire-based versions. They are therefore principally used for long-haul or backbone traffic. In order to bring optical networking performance from the main networks and data centers of today into the offices and homes of tomorrow, costs must decrease by several orders of magnitude.

By harnessing the knowledge gained during its ongoing commitment to extending and expanding the impact of Moore's Law, Intel intends to jumpstart the broadband revolution by manufacturing silicon-based opto-electronics devices for the telecommunications industry. The goal is to improve network capacity while reducing the cost to construct and maintain high-speed, robust optical networks. One such technology being researched and developed by Intel is silicon photonics.

Adding Photonics to Silicon
Silicon photonics wafer processed by IntelUsing silicon and standard silicon processing techniques, Intel researchers are building microscopic optical or photonic devices that provide active functionality rather than simple, passive optical wave-guiding. In the future, these tiny silicon building blocks will be selectively placed into optical modules, reducing their cost and size.

The silicon manufacturing process development activities for this research are being conducted at the Intel Fab 8 facility in Israel. This facility is also used for developing Micro-Electro Mechanical Systems (MEMS).

Realizing the Benefits
Standard integrated circuit manufacturing technologies can be used to add opto-electronic capabilities to silicon. This manufacturing technique will significantly reduce the cost of components critical to optical network deployment such as optical switches, modulators, and tunable filters.

Intel Chief Technology Officer Pat Gelsinger recently demonstrated a prototype of a silicon-based tunable filter at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco. Microscopically small and relatively inexpensive to produce, these silicon-based devices will eventually offer better performance at a significantly lower cost than today's arcane and costly hardware.

This in turn will greatly increase the availability of high-capacity, high-speed networks, thereby fostering the transmission of rich, dynamic content. Most importantly, just as with today's silicon logic devices, photonics will continue to benefit from Intel's effective application of the principles of Moore's Law by enabling ever faster and lower cost networks into the future.

Learn more about how silicon photonics actually works ( 349K PDF ).

Related Links
Technical Information:
Silicon Photonics white paper

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