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Ayar Labs Realizes In-Package Optics

September 3, 2019

Author: Bob Wheeler

The holy grail of monolithic silicon photonics remains over the horizon, but photonic chiplets will enable leading-edge digital SoCs with in-package optics. In a segment littered with failed startups, Ayar Labs hopes to commercialize in-package optics using silicon photonics next year. It’s working with major partners GlobalFoundries for process technology and Intel for MCM technology as well as product prototypes. Rather than address networking, as most shipping silicon-photonics products have, Ayar is initially targeting specialized processors.

The startup’s TeraPHY chiplet integrates all electrical and optical functions between a fiber ribbon and a digital bus, with one major exception: lasers are external. Placing the laser outside the MCM eases thermal design and provides better temperature control for the laser. Built in GlobalFoundries’ 45nm SOI process, TeraPHY integrates passive and active optical functions including waveguides, couplers, modulators, and detectors. On the electrical side, the chiplet has serdes, drivers, and amplifiers. In a proof-of-concept design unveiled at the recent Hot Chips conference, TeraPHY delivers 1.0Tbps over four duplex fibers.

Although silicon photonics fell short of early integration claims, it has achieved high volumes in pluggable optical modules. At the same time, leading-edge electrical interfaces have adopted PAM4 modulation to achieve 50Gbps and, soon, 100Gbps. Vendors are quickly realizing, however, that moving beyond 100Gbps per lane may require bringing optics in package. By demonstrating impressive density and integration, Ayar Labs has ensured it’s part of the copackaging discussion.

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