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3 examples of how integrated photonics is impacting data and telecom

11th of November 2021

Early civilizations already used optical communication. For example, mirrors and smoke were used to send messages. In recent years, the potential of optics and photonics for communication is expanding rapidly and will form the basis of future communication systems. In this article we give three examples of integrated photonics applied in the data and telecom sector and the advantages they bring.

How integrated photonics revolutionises data centers

The combined storage capacities of all the data centers of the world surpasses 13 Exabytes. For context, 1 Exabyte is roughly equal to 1 billion Gigabytes. This number is only set to grow as new possibilities open up in the world of the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Together, optic fibers and integrated photonics can meet this critical challenge.

Photonic Integrated Circuits, PICs, are microchips that use light particles named photons instead of electricity. This enables them to sense, process and transmit literally at the speed of light. PICs, can be used for anything from enabling communication between two chips on a circuit board (PCB) to long-haul communications for data center interconnects. The possibilities are endless. A significant improvement in the performance of data centers can be achieved by using optic fiber communication and PICs in data centers.

Reducing global electricity consumption

In addition to enabling faster speeds and larger data packets, PICs provide an opportunity to address climate issues related to the transfer and storage of data. Data centers are estimated to consume more than 3% of the world’s total electricity. This may seem relatively small, but with the voracious demand for connected devices, cloud computing, and systems, the potential for this to exponentially jump is viable.[3] A large part of the energy that data centers use, is spent on cooling the servers. Compared to conventional electronics, photonics generate a lot less heat. Hence, PICs don’t require any dedicated cooling systems, reducing the overall electricity consumption.

Integrated photonics for intervehicular communication

The automotive industry is going through a rapid transformation, driven by electrification, autonomous vehicles, driver support systems, as well as changes in mobility patterns and city infrastructure. As a result, cars have become connected and this together with the increasing amount of camera’s, radars and LiDAR systems leads to a need for high speed data communication in cars. 

Integrated photonics plays an increasingly important role in monitoring the surroundings of the car through sensor systems like LiDAR (light detection and ranging) or in-car connecivity trough Li-Fi (like WiFi with light). Communication of cars with other vehicles or with the infrastructure is implemented to improve driver safety. Some features can already be seen in modern cars, where a car picks up traffic signs and reminds the driver of the speed limit. 


Cars from the future. Mercedes Benz Vision Avtr Concept. Source: Mercedes.

Furthermore, integrated photonics is also helping free-space optical communication to commercialise. This technology allows the communication of data securely through free-space by using laser beams. It is mainly used by large vehicles such as marine vehicles or airplanes to communicate with each-other over long distances. The communication is wireless, high-bandwidth and could also be used to link data centers without the need of using a fiber optic cable.

You can read more about these developments in the roadmap Integrated Photonics for Automotive.

The light way to 6G networks

The next generation of mobile networks is anticipated to be rolled out by the end of this decade, and integrated photonics has the potential to play a key role in the development of this technology.  6G could be based on photonics defined radio. This will bring the benefits of optics to mobile communication with potential speeds of a whopping 1 TBps.

The technology might even make optical communication in free space possible to wirelessly transmit data. 3D holographic videos, 8K streaming, AR/VR, cloud gaming, smart vehicles, and smart cities are just some areas where 6G is set to bring big changes.

The next decade is crucial for R&D

It is necessary to understand that this is just a beginning for integrated photonics. It's comparable to the period of the 1960s and 1970s was for electronics. The next decade is crucial for the research and development of integrated photonics. Its use in applications such as data centers not only provides benefits for speed but can help deliver a more energy-efficient future.

This article touched on the various applications of PICs in data communication. Read the full article at Wevolver > 

The PhotonDelta ecosystem has completed a roadmap for the use of integrated photonics in the data & telecom industry. Get an overview of the different trends in the sector and the opportunities for integrated photonics technology. The pre-registration is now open >

[3] How Much Energy Do Data Centers Really Use?, accessed 19 April 2021.

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