Photonic integration in the future access market – Interview with Professor John Marsh, University of Glasgow

“With a bit of luck and cooperation of the major stakeholders in the public market, we will have in about two years time faster internet connections”, according to professor John Marsh. But the far east will be the first to enjoy this advantage, as they have invested heavily in fibre optic systems over the past decade rather than relying on old copper networks like Europe and North America. On top of that it is of immense importance that the leading access network companies in the world agree on standards that include a robust roadmap for the next 15 years.

The moment for photonic integration in the access market has finally arrived is the view of professor John Marsh, of the University of Glasgow. Marsh has extensive experience operating in academic and industrial environments over the last 30 years. His research has focused on semiconductor lasers, integrated optics, and their commercialization. Photonic Integrated Circuits are a critical enabler in the major markets of communications, sensing, healthcare and optical signal processing. Optical communications is the largest of these, with a 60% market share. The global market for optical transceivers is predicted to grow rapidly, from $7bn in 2018 to $10bn by 2021, with all the growth being attributed to high-speed transceivers using photonic integration. Costs must be reduced, however, and the barriers faced by photonics can be compared with historical progress in electronics.

Improvements through photonic integration

“It is no longer a question if photonic integration is going to come to the access market, but more a question of when,” tells Marsh. “The research has been going on since the 80’s but has to wait a long time because so far discrete components have been able to do the job. China, Japan and Korea were the first countries to implement passive optical networks (PONs) in the access network on a large scale. Now their networks are migrating from 2.5 Gb/sec to 10 Gb/sec, and soon PONs will use multiple wavelength channels at 25 Gb/sec. Photonic integration will be needed to do this, but integration needs large volumes to lower the cost and the major companies are in fact a barrier here, as they have not defined a long enough roadmap for the required standards. These standards are needed so the investment can be made in the integration technology.” The advantages for the users of the photonic networks are huge. Typical PONs are able to deliver 2.5 Gb/sec, and this will improve to no less than 25 Gb/sec. Although this data rate is shared by many users, both commercial enterprises and the public will enjoy a 10-fold speed improvement in the delivery of information.

But standardization is also needed to make the required equipment for the public market cheap enough. This also depends on what platforms are chosen, and there is broadly speaking a choice of three: indium phosphide, silicon photonics and a hybrid form. Indium phosphide is used in the long-haul network, with Infinera the market leader in Photonic Integrated Circuits. In the short-haul data market, Intel is backing silicon photonics. These each have their technological advantages, and logically one might expect one of these platforms to be adopted for the access market. However, professor Marsh thinks there is a good chance that a hybrid-system might prevail.  “As this can make use of a rather simple and an unexpected technology, the hard disk drive. In around 18 months, the next generation of hard disk drives will bring photonic integration technology to the market for a very low cost – you have to implement the photonics technology for one or two dollars in each disk drive. This is the type of major breakthrough that will allow you to make a very complex 100 Gb/sec transceiver for the access market for $25.”

John Marsh will speak at the Photonic Integration Conference on September 26, 2017, at High Tech Campus Eindhoven, The Netherlands. For more information and registration to the Photonic Integration Conference, we invite you to visit the conference website.

The interview was made by Jakajima, the organiser of the conference. For more interviews with speakers at Jakajima conferences, we invite you to visit Jakajima’s website.

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