4 Fiber Optic Networking Spotlights From the Optical Fiber Conference

The Optical Fiber Conference (OFC), one of the biggest annual events for optical communications and networking, took place this week in San Diego, California. This year’s event focused on themes including digital twins in optical networking, wideband optical amplifiers for data centers, photonic components for in-physics computing, and the role of optics in space communication. 

 

OFC

The OFC runs from March 24–28, 2024, at the San Diego Convention Center. Image (modified) used courtesy of the OFC
 

In this piece, we’ll examine some of the most notable fiber optic networking technologies that emerged from the event. 

 

Semtech FiberEdge Chipset

Semtech took the OFC stage to announce the sampling availability of its FiberEdge chipset, designed to help transition cable operators’ networks from 10 Gbps to 100 Gbps by enabling 100 Gbps ZR Coherent-lite optical modules. The GN1740 linear transimpedance amplifier (TIA) and the GN1796 driver are key components of the chipset, both tailored to support high-speed data transmission while maintaining low power consumption. Because the chipset is as compact as it is efficient and performant, it may be a useful solution in small form factor 100 Gbps QSFP28 Coherent-lite modules.

According to Semtech, this technology is poised to play a crucial role in meeting the future bandwidth requirements of emerging technologies such as 5G-Advanced and 6G networks. This will ensure cable operators can accommodate the exponential growth in data traffic.

 

MaxLinear Rushmore DSPs

MaxLinear recently unveiled its Rushmore family of 200 G/lane PAM4 digital signal processors (DSPs).

Developed in collaboration with Samsung Foundry, this fourth-generation DSP and serializer/deserializer (SerDes) family leverages advanced CMOS technology for enhanced performance and power efficiency. The Rushmore family supports a range of applications, including fully and half-re-timed optical modules and active electrical cables. These advancements cater to the escalating demands of data centers and telecommunications networks, offering solutions like 8×200 G-to-8×200 G re-timers and 8×100 G-to-4×200 G gearboxes. 

According to MaxLinear, shipments of PAM4 DSPs are expected to increase at a 50% CAGR between now and 2027. The company hopes its new Rushmore DSPs can help meet some of this growing need in the years to come.

 

MediaTek ASIC Design Platform

Ahead of the 2024 OFC, Mediatek introduced a custom ASIC design platform that incorporates both high-speed electrical and optical I/Os.

 

MediaTek's process for providing ASIC solutions

MediaTek’s process for providing ASIC solutions. Image used courtesy of MediaTek
 

MediaTek will demonstrate the platform with a serviceable socketed implementation that integrates 8x800G electrical links and 8x800G optical links, made possible through MediaTek’s proprietary SerDes technology for electrical I/O and the inclusion of Ranovus’ Odin optical engines for optical I/O. The heterogeneous solution employs advanced 112 G LR SerDes and optical modules, significantly reducing board space and device costs while achieving a remarkable boost in bandwidth density. Moreover, it is said to achieve up to 50% lower system power consumption than existing solutions.

According to MediaTek, the integration of electrical and optical I/O addresses the escalating demand for higher memory bandwidth, capacity, and I/O density spurred by the rise of generative AI. 

 

Broadcom 51.2-Tbps CPO Ethernet Switch

Broadcom has introduced the industry’s first 51.2-Tbps Co-Packaged Optics (CPO) Ethernet Switch Platform, designed to address the escalating demand for higher bandwidth and energy efficiency in AI systems.

According to Broadcom, traditional pluggable optical transceivers currently consume approximately 50% of system power and constitute over 50% of the cost of conventional switch systems. Broadcom designed the new product, dubbed Bailly, to significantly reduce power consumption and enhance cost efficiency.

 

Broadcom’s silicon photonics platform

Broadcom’s silicon photonics platform. Image used courtesy of Broadcom
 

Bailly integrates eight silicon photonics-based 6.4-Tbps optical engines with Broadcom’s StrataXGS Tomahawk5 switch chip. Key to Bailly’s performance is its integration of hundreds of optical components and millions of transistors within a single optical engine. This high level of integration enables the placement of optical engines on a common substrate with complex logic ASICs, thereby minimizing the need for signal-conditioning circuitry.

Broadcom claims Bailly reduces power consumption by 70% compared to pluggable transceivers while maintaining high-volume production through CMOS foundry techniques, advanced packaging technologies, and automated high-density fiber attach capabilities.

 

More Networking Innovations to Come

These announcements at the OFC convey a push to improve networking technology to meet the growing needs of AI and high-performance computing. As evident with advances from Semtech, MaxLinear, MediaTek, Broadcom, and others, each company has its own approach to creating more capable and power-efficient fiber optic solutions.

The OFC will occur next year on March 30–April 3, 2025, in San Francisco, California. 


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