IBM's Holey Optochip hits 1Tb/s high
March 9, 2012 | 11:12
IBM has become the first company to produce a parallel optical transceiver capable of transferring one terabit of data per second - enough to stream 500 high-definition videos simultaneously down a single cable.
Due to be formally unveiled by IBM scientists at the Optical Fibre Communication Conference, the prototype chipset is dubbed 'Holey Optochip' for its somewhat unconventional design. By adding 48 holes to the centre of a standard 90nm silicon complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chip measuring just 5.2mm by 5.8mm, the scientists were able to connect 24 receiver and 24 transmitter channels through the integrated circuit's rear.
The result, the company claims, is a prototype design some eight times faster than anything else on the market. Better still, while the team is to present a prototype at the conference, IBM claims the chip was created using standard production techniques and commercially available components meaning it's theoretically ready to enter production - although researchers are planning a ten-year roll-out.
'Reaching the one trillion bit per second mark with the Holey Optochip marks IBM's latest milestone to develop chip-scale transceivers that can handle the volume of traffic in the era of big data,' explained IBM research Clint Schow, a member of the team that built the prototype. 'We have been actively pursuing higher levels of integration, power efficiency and performance for all the optical components through packaging and circuit innovations. We aim to improve on the technology for commercialisation in the next decade with the collaboration of manufacturing partners.'
While the main feature of the chip is its extremely fast data transfer rate, IBM's design brings other advantages too. When fully loaded, the transceiver consumes under 5W making it suitable for high-density deployment in the datacentre.
Sadly, that latter reveals IBM's intentions for the technology: as the parallel communications system needs 24 fibre pairs to operate, each of which should be less than 150m in length, the company is positioning its Holey Optochip as a datacentre interconnect rather than a consumer-facing product. As the technology improves, however, it's likely that it will trickle down - eventually becoming commonplace for connecting the ultra-definition cameras of the future to PCs, for example.
In addition to the Holey Optochip, IBM has announced it will be showcasing a pair of optical links using a new receiver design to hit 15Gb/s while drawing on 20mW of power and a single-chanel 40Gb/s optical link with boosted signal-to-noise ratio for longer transmission lengths at the conference.