In today’s digital age, where data transmission and connectivity are paramount, optical modules and transceivers have emerged as critical components for high-speed and reliable optical communications. These advanced technologies play a vital role in various applications, ranging from data centers and telecommunications networks to emerging technologies like 5G and IoT. In this article, we will explore the significance of optical modules and transceivers, their evolving capabilities, and their transformative impact on our interconnected world.
Unleashing the Power of Optical Modules and Transceivers:
Optical modules and transceivers are the workhorses behind the scenes, enabling seamless transmission of vast amounts of data at unprecedented speeds over fiber optic networks. They serve as the bridge between electronic signals and optical signals, converting and transmitting data through optical fibers with exceptional precision and reliability. The importance of these technologies cannot be overstated, as they pave the way for numerous technological advancements and digital innovations.
Enabling High-Speed Data Transmission:
One of the primary advantages of optical modules and transceivers lies in their ability to achieve higher data rates. With the constant demand for faster and more efficient data transmission, these technologies are continually evolving to support speeds of 400Gbps, 800Gbps, and beyond. Advancements in modulation schemes, such as PAM4, along with innovations in optical components and signal processing techniques, are driving the industry towards unparalleled data transfer capabilities.
Meeting the Challenges of Connectivity:
As our digital landscape expands, so does the need for reliable and scalable connectivity.
With the rapid development of cloud computing, big data, ultra-high-definition video, artificial intelligence, and 5G industry applications, the frequency of network access and access methods continue to increase, and network data traffic grows rapidly, posing higher challenges to data center interconnection (DCI).
The growth of the Cloud and, most of all, the further development of hyperscale datacenters are driving transmission standards for even faster Ethernet networks forwards. In particular, applications that make use of AI (Artificial Intelligence) or ML (Machine Learning) as well as the increasing prevalence of home-office work are leading to a growth in bandwidths.
The Ethernet protocol is responding to these growing requirements and will soon support speeds of 800 Gbit/s. What is more, the Ethernet Alliance is already working on the transmission rate which will follow on from 800 Gbit/s, namely 1.6 TBit/s. With this rapid growth in speeds, an Ethernet speed of 3.2 TBit/s by 2025 and 6.4 TBit/s by 2028 is being planned.
Optical modules and transceivers rise to the challenge by providing solutions that support the growing demand for bandwidth-intensive applications. Whether it’s data centers managing massive amounts of information or telecommunications networks facilitating seamless communication, these technologies empower us to stay connected in an increasingly data-driven world.
An optical module is a typically hot-pluggable optical transceiver used in high-bandwidth data communications applications. As an important part of fiber-optic communication, an optical module is a photoelectric converter that converts electrical signals into optical signals and vice versa.
An optical module works at the physical layer of the OSI model and is one of the core components in the fiber communication system. It mainly consists of optoelectronic devices (optical transmitter and optical receiver), functional circuits, and optical bores. Its main function is to convert between electrical and optical signals during optical signal transmission.
Optical modules typically have an electrical interface on the side that connects to the inside of the system and an optical interface on the side that connects to the outside world through a fiber optic cable.
The transmit optical bore inputs electrical signals at a certain bit rate, which are then processed by the internal driver chip. After the processing, the drive’s semiconductor laser diode (LD) or light-emitting diode (LED) emits modulated optical signals at the corresponding rate. When the optical signals reach the receive optical bore through an optical fiber, they are converted back into electrical signals by the photodetector diode. The electrical signals are then output at the corresponding bit rate after passing the preamplifier.
At present, the 400G optical module has entered the stage of commercial deployment in the world, and the prototype development and technical standards of the 800G optical module are in progress, and the 1.6Tb/s optical module may become the next hot spot in the global competition.
For in-depth understanding on Optical Module and Transceiver technology and applications please visit: The Complete Guide to Optical Modules and Optical Transceivers: Technologies, Deployment, Maintenance, and Future Trends
Optical Transceiver technology
At present, there are mainly three types of optical modulation technologies in the industry, electro-optic modulators based on silicon photonics, indium phosphide, and lithium niobate material platforms. Silicon photonic modulators are mainly used in short-range data communication transceiver modules, and the market share of silicon photonic modules will begin to increase
Optical chips are the key core devices in optical communication systems. As optical chips using silicon photonics technology, silicon photonic chips are new integrated circuits manufactured by using silicon photonic materials and devices through special processes. Compared with traditional III-V material optical chips, silicon optical chips have the characteristics of high integration, low cost, and good optical waveguide transmission performance due to the use of silicon as the integrated chip substrate.
The advantages of silicon photonics integration include low power consumption, high integration, reduced volume, and faster connection speed through the transmission of information through photonic media.
The interconnects required to couple discrete optical components result in electrical and optical losses that must be compensated with higher transmitter power and more energy consumption. In contrast, the more active and passive optical components (lasers, modulators, detectors, etc.) manufacturers can integrate on a single chip, the more energy they can save since they avoid coupling losses between discrete components.
At the same time, silicon photonics technology can be used for batch testing through wafer testing and other methods, and the test efficiency is significantly improved. In addition, from the perspective of material cost, the traditional III-V material (GaAs/InP) substrate is limited by the growth of the wafer material, and the production cost is high. With the further increase of the transmission rate, a larger III-V substrate is required. Family wafers, the cost of chips will be further increased. Compared with III-V materials, silicon-based materials are lower in cost and can be manufactured in large sizes, so theoretically chip costs can be significantly reduced.
Empowering Emerging Technologies:
The impact of optical modules and transceivers extends beyond traditional networking environments. With the rise of emerging technologies like 5G and IoT, these technologies play a crucial role in enabling the seamless integration and communication of countless devices. By delivering high-capacity, low-latency connections, optical modules and transceivers provide the foundation for innovations such as autonomous vehicles, augmented reality, and smart cities.
Driving Efficiency and Sustainability:
In addition to their speed and reliability, optical modules and transceivers contribute to energy efficiency and sustainability. As data centers and networks expand, power consumption becomes a significant concern. By implementing advanced power management techniques and optimizing energy usage, these technologies help reduce environmental impact while maintaining high-performance connectivity.
China reported in Dec 2022 of development of the first domestic 1.6Tb/s silicon optical chip.
In December 2022, China reported a significant development in the field of optical chip technology. The country successfully developed the first domestic 1.6Tb/s silicon optical chip through a collaborative effort involving the National Optoelectronics Innovation Center, the State Key Laboratory of Optical Fiber Communication Technology, Accelink, and Pengcheng Laboratory.
The purpose of the 1.6Tb/s silicon optical chip is to address the challenge of data bandwidth and power consumption limitations in network communication equipment. By employing photoelectric fusion and breakthrough advancements in key technology, the chip enhances data transmission capacity and energy efficiency.
The joint research and development team achieved mastery over critical technologies related to photoelectric collaborative silicon optical modulators and heterogeneous germanium silicon waveguide detectors. These advancements resulted in silicon optical active devices with bandwidth exceeding 80GHz. Additionally, the team overcame manufacturing processes and compatibility issues associated with various silicon optical devices.
Through the development of high-frequency and high-density packaging techniques, as well as an advanced photonic link equalization method, the team achieved a significant milestone by successfully completing functional verification of a single 8 x 200Gb/s silicon-based optical interconnection chip. This achievement is the first of its kind globally.
Compared to existing commercial silicon optical chips, the 1.6Tb/s silicon optical chip offers twice the channel rate and single chip interconnect capacity, marking China’s initial entry into the Tb/s level of optical interconnect chips. The chip sets a new benchmark for single optical interconnect rate and interconnect density in China. It demonstrates the exceptional advantages of silicon optical technology, including ultra-high speed, ultra-high density, and high scalability.
The development of the 1.6Tb/s silicon optical chip paves the way for reliable optical chip solutions in the next generation of data centers, providing strong support for the advancement of technologies and industries such as supercomputing and artificial intelligence. It represents a significant step towards achieving high-speed, high-density optical interconnectivity, contributing to China’s technological prowess in the field of optical communication.
Optical module and Transceiver market
The Optical Transceiver Market size is expected to grow from USD 11.38 billion in 2023 to USD 21.98 billion by 2028, at a CAGR of 14.07% during the forecast period (2023-2028).
With the growing investments in optical devices and the fast development of optical communication in recent years, the global optical transceiver market saw significant growth. The increasing data traffic and the adoption of cloud computing are driving the market’s growth.
The development of data center modules is closely related to the optical equipment and their connection methods. Such factors determine how many optical transceivers may be needed in the data center. The need for higher rates is increasing due to applications such as cloud computing and 5G. Datacenter equipment in different locations adapts to these changes and migrates to higher rates accordingly.
Moreover, server access switch speed migration increased during the last five years. The enterprise server access gradually changed from 1G-10G to 10G-25G, while the mega cloud server access gradually changed from 10G-40G to 25/50G-50/100G. Since the equipment is becoming more advanced with higher rates, the modules must have the same data rates to assure the overall network performance.
According to Lightcounting’s forecast, the global Top5 cloud computing companies (Alibaba, Amazon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft) will rapidly increase their demand for 800G optical modules from 2022, and it is expected to become the leading model in the datacom market in 2026. Top5 cloud computing companies will spend US$1.4 billion on Ethernet optical modules in 2020, and Lightcounting expects to exceed US$3 billion in 2026, of which 800G product demand will become the largest part.
Three factors will drive greater demand for such high-speed modules than previously anticipated, according to LightCounting:
- Continued strong data traffic growth, driven by artificial intelligence (AI) applications, as Google indicated in data it shared at OFC 2021.
- Rapid development of 800G Ethernet transceivers and the necessary supporting components.
- Higher than expected demand for bandwidth in data center clusters that will rely on DWDM optics.
The form factor and electrical interface are often specified by an interested group using a multi-source agreement (MSA). Optical modules can either plug into a front panel socket or an on-board socket. Sometimes the optical module is replaced by an electrical interface module that implements either an active or passive electrical connection to the outside world. A large industry supports the manufacturing and use of optical modules.
Key companies include II-VI Incorporated, Arista, Dell, Generic, FS, Mellanox Technologies, Cisco, Juniper Networks, Hengtong Group, InnoLight Technology Corporation, HG Genuine, Source Photonics, Eoptolink, Accelink Technologies
The future holds exciting possibilities for optical modules and transceivers. Advancements in integration and miniaturization are making way for higher port densities and improved space efficiency, enabling the growth of data centers and networks. Furthermore, emerging technologies like coherent optics, silicon photonics, and network automation promise even faster speeds, enhanced performance, and intelligent network management.
As we navigate the digital landscape, optical modules and transceivers continue to revolutionize the way we connect, communicate, and innovate. These technologies, with their remarkable data transmission capabilities, empower us to embrace the digital transformation, drive technological advancements, and pave the way for a more connected and intelligent future. With their potential for higher data rates, scalability, and efficiency, optical modules and transceivers are the catalysts that will shape the future of optical communications.