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IBM Reports on "Holey Optochip"
Friday, March 16, 2012 | IBM

IBM scientists report on a prototype optical chipset, dubbed “Holey Optochip,” that is the first parallel optical transceiver to transfer one trillion bits, one terabit, of information per second, the equivalent of downloading 500 high-definition movies. The report was presented at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference taking place in Los Angeles, California.

With the ability to move information at blazing speeds, eight times faster than parallel optical components available today, the breakthrough could transform how data is accessed, shared and used for a new era of communications, computing, and entertainment. The raw speed of one transceiver is equivalent to the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users at today’s typical 10 Mb/s high-speed internet access. Or, it would take just around an hour to transfer the entire U.S. Library of Congress web archive through the transceiver.  

Progress in optical communications is being driven by an explosion of new applications and services as the amount of data being created and transmitted over corporate and consumer networks continues to grow. At one terabit per second, IBM’s latest advance in optical chip technology provides unprecedented amounts of bandwidth that could one day ship loads of data such as posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos posted online, sensors used to gather climate information, and transaction records of online purchases.  

“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,” said IBM Researcher Clint Schow, part 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 commercialization in the next decade with the collaboration of manufacturing partners.”  

Optical networking offers the potential to significantly improve data transfer rates by speeding the flow of data using light pulses, instead of sending electrons over wires. Because of this, researchers have been looking for ways to make use of optical signals within standard low-cost, high-volume chip manufacturing techniques for widespread use. 

Photomicrograph of IBM Holey Optochip. Original chip dimensions are 5.2 mm x 5.8 mm.


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