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Data Centers Drive to 800Gbps Optics

July 6, 2021

Author: Bob Wheeler

Those who still think of optical components as analog may be surprised to see 5nm technology applied to high-volume optical modules. Power is the enemy of density, however, and the value of 800Gbps optical modules includes doubling faceplate density compared with shipping 400Gbps designs. The 800Gbps designs employ 112Gbps PAM4 signaling, which requires complex equalization, pushing chip designers to use more digital processing (DSP) and less analog. In fact, the CMOS physical-layer devices in PAM4 optical modules are called DSPs.

The recent Optical Fiber Communication Conference (OFC) set an important milestone for optical-networking components, with multiple vendors having realized 112Gbps PAM4 electrical interfaces in their modules. Each year at OFC, chip companies reveal their latest offerings for data-center networks, including physical-layer ICs targeting both systems and modules.

Marvell used the conference to show its expanded product portfolio following its Inphi acquisition, and it announced its first 5nm chip: an 800Gbps PHY. Broadcom announced optical components, including lasers, that reduce the cost of 100Gbps-per-wavelength links up to 100m. MaxLinear announced its second-generation PAM4 DSP, which targets 800Gbps modules. Although there’s a great deal of interest and investment in copackaged optics (CPO), integrated CPO products remain in the demonstration phase.

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