Optical components

Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics

A startup that's spent years in stealth mode is ready to join the silicon photonics race.

Lightwire Inc. plans to make its presence known Monday, coincident with the OFC/NFOEC conference.

Lightwire is among a handful of companies trying to use complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) processes -- the manufacturing that's applied to run-of-the-mill chips -- to build optical components. Such technology could lower the cost of optics dramatically and make the parts more easily mass-produceable.

Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) and Luxtera Inc. have grabbed the most headlines in this area, and Kotura Inc. is working on the technology as well. (See Intel Pushes Silicon Modulator and Luxtera Goes Commercial.) But Lightwire wanted to stay on the sidelines and make its first big splash based on products rather than technology, CEO Vijay Albuquerque says.

Lightwire's OFC/NFOEC coming-out device is a transceiver for the 10 Gbit/s Ethernet LRM standard, which sends down 220 meters of old multimode fiber. But it's really the guts of the part that make it special.

It's been quite a road to get there. Lightwire's roots go back to 2001, when Kal Shastri founded the startup OptronX with funding from sources including Artiman Ventures . OptronX got sold to JDSU (Nasdaq: JDSU; Toronto: JDU) in 2002, but the silicon photonics assets were left behind for Shastri to transfer to his next startup, SiOptical.

Artiman stuck with the company in the years following, and in 2007, SiOptical picked up New Science Ventures and Novitas Capital as investors. Lightwire isn't disclosing how much funding it's received. "What I can say is that we have never been short of money," Albuquerque says.

Finally, SiOptical changed its name to Lightwire last November. "We have a company that's down the street in Allentown, CyOptics Inc. , and there's always been confusion," Albuquerque says.

(Readers might remember CyOptics as the company that's inherited the old Lucent photonics division -- see CyOptics Tries On Triquint.)

Inside the silicon
Lightwire's silicon parts consist of two chips: a laser modulator and a second integrated circuit that contains everything else: the modulator driver, the transimpedance amplifier, etc. (It's still not feasible to make lasers and photodetectors from pure CMOS, so Lightwire buys those parts separately.)

"One of the decisions we made very early on was to separate the photonic ICs and the driver ICs," Albuquerque says.

The modulator, representing the photonics side, is a Mach-Zender interferometer built on a mainstream semiconductor technology (0.13-micron line widths, if you really want to know). The driver chip is built on a more advanced, 65-nanometer (0.065-micron) process, which was a good reason to keep them separate.

The modulator is what makes the transceiver "go" at 10 Gbit/s. Lightwire pairs it with a cheapo laser bought off-the-shelf, one that emits its wavelength continuously and relies on the modulator to create data bits at the proper rate -- 10 Gbit/s, in this case.

Intel and Luxtera do as much, but Lightwire claims it's got an advantage in its manufacturing method. The modulator is based on what Lightwire calls a Polysilicon Gate Oxide Insulator Silicon Capacitor (Siscap), which lets the modulator vary the light using a smaller electric charge compared with traditional structures. Lightwire also says it's got a novel way of coupling the modulator to an optical fiber.

Lightwire claims it's got the lowest power of any silicon photonics play, at 400 milliwatts for its LRM transceiver. But others are already challenging that.

Luxtera, for instance, notes that its quad SFP module -- containing four 10 Gbit/s channels -- consumes a total of 2.4 Watts, including power eaten up by things like a microcontroller included in the module. "If you just looked at our transceiver alone, we'd be less than 400 milliwats per transceiver," says Marek Tlalka, Luxtera's vice president of marketing.

Most of Lightwire's plans involve enterprise products. The company expects to produce some Sonet devices in a couple of years, but that's not where the real volume is, Albuquerque says. "We are focused on the high-volume markets, where we can make a bigger difference."

Included on its roadmap is a chip for active optical cables, the area Luxtera picked for its first commercial product.

Longer-term, Albuquerque wants Lightwire help redefine systems designs, introducing ideas like a backplane based on optical interconnects. But the company had to get established with more pragmatic products first. "New systems architectures are a three- to five-year effort. Those are discussions we are having, but for the long term," Albuquerque says.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:47:13 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics Albuquerque is telling us he intends to have Sonet products *next* year, so the wait will be a bit shorter.

Still, most of the work in this area seems to target the enterprise. It's a more immediate market and a faster sale -- Luxtera was telling me they targeted data centers first because they didn't want to wait out the telecom life cycle before getting revenues.

It goes back to the same problem that's been around for years: Fewer people want to do the research for telecom, because the payoff is so much harder to reach.
semiveteran 12/5/2012 | 3:47:11 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics Re:Telcom space, cycles are longer, but the payback may be faster in the access area where the FTTx deployments are showing real volume and a rapid ramp.
DarkWriting 12/5/2012 | 3:47:10 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics Is there really such a thing as an "off the shelf" cheapo laser running at 10G? Is this 4 channels running at 2.5G?

rabbimarketmaker 12/5/2012 | 3:47:09 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics Dear craig, hello & Agutteh Moshiach Voch & Shavua Tov, & a few good made points, but i the wall street rabbimarketmaker & optio photonic analyst, has been sitting on his tuchis, glued to the seat off his pants, very carefully watching & trading these $emi-Jr's, for the longe$t...when i $hould have been $horting all of them like crazy, i.e. for more then a decade...so the rea! million U$D que$tion i$, are any of the$e baby'$...ever going to make a hone$t long buck, rather then ju$t being eventually con$olidated or just plain written off as another huge debackle lo$$ to the average inve$tor...even some novel good faith $mall cap companys $tocks are going into the aby$$e$ a$ we $peak, as true novel technology$ are just $urfacing...i.e. Lumera Receives Order and Enters into Agreement with Lockheed Martin BOTHELL, Wash.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Jan. 29, 2008--Lumera Corporation (NASDAQ:LMRA), a leader in the field of photonics communication, announced today that it has received a purchase order from Lockheed Martin for Lumera's high electro-optic activity materials. The term of the existing agreement was extended through December 31, 2009, during which time Lockheed Martin will advise Lumera of its intentions regarding a commercial license for the materials.

"We are pleased that Lockheed Martin is interested in our polymer materials and that the materials performed as anticipated," said Dr. Raluca Dinu, director of Lumera's Electro-Optic Business Unit. "We look forward to continuing a long-term relationship with Lockheed Martin."

Lumera Corporation Announces Order for 100 Gbps Modulator,Revolutionary Modulator is First of Its Kind in the World

BOTHELL, Wash.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Nov. 1, 2007--Lumera Corporation (NASDAQ:LMRA), a leader in the field of photonic communications, announced today it is now readying for launch its 100 Gbps electro-optic polymer modulator that will become the first known modulator in the world to transmit at 100 Gbps data rates. Additionally, Lumera announced it has received an order from a well known research institution for the modulator. Specific terms of the contract were not disclosed.

Earlier this month, the company introduced its 40 Gbps modulator and indicated that market dynamics were quickly shaping to support its upcoming 100 Gbps product. Lumera sees bandwidth demand increasing rapidly as system designers are developing higher bandwidth networks to meet market requirements.

The market opportunity for a polymer solution rests in the material's ability to optimize bandwidth while keeping power needs, and resulting heat, at low levels. This is something that existing crystalline materials cannot accomplish efficiently.

Professor Larry Dalton, an award-winning professor at the University of Washington and a global expert in the development of electro-optic materials, believes that the time for a shift to a disruptive technology such as electro-optic polymers is now at hand.

"For modulators based on crystalline technologies the bandwidth is compromised as you lower the driving voltage," said Dr. Larry Dalton. "To solve this dilemma, Lumera's electro-optic polymer modulators are the best and, right now, only known solution, as they offer simultaneously low driving voltage and extremely high bandwidth."

"We are at the crossroads of a significant shift occurring in the way communications networks are built," said Dr. Joseph Vallner, interim CEO of Lumera. "As communications demands continue to increase, the adoption of polymer technology as a reliable alternative to crystalline materials will become critical. Lumera expects to be a leader of that evolution."

For its part, Lumera expects to aggressively market the unique value proposition of its modulators to system developers by demonstrating that polymers are a superior and reliable alternative to crystalline materials.

About Lumera, Lumera is a leader in photonic communications. The company designs electro-optic components based on proprietary polymer compounds for the telecommunications and computing industries. For more information, please visit www.lumera.com.

so craig or any-warm-body else, who may have anything to add to all this...$peculation, when i look back on rea! life times...& options, that iv "could of & would of, & $hould of..." been in $in city, & at the very lea$t...enjoying & $elf gratifying myself @ the craps tables, with a few nice satanic bimbos...& again, at least in the end, i would of come out, with no pun intended...ahead of the game...$halom!
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:47:09 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics No, there isn't. ... they're using a continuous wavelength laser (so it's not 10G or 2.5G or, technically, any speed). And CW lasers, from what I understand, come pretty darn cheap -- I think Albuquerque was saying $1 to $10, vs. $50 to $500 for a 'real' 10G laser.
DarkWriting 12/5/2012 | 3:47:07 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics I guess it's time for the grammar lesson again.

There is no such phrase as "could of". It's could've or could have!!! For chrissakes, aren't there any educated people on these boards?

rahat.hussain 12/5/2012 | 3:47:06 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics Help me here - do we need the 27th transceiver company competing against the Asian vendors? (I don't care what technology they use or how exciting the stealth piece)

Is there money to be made in this space? Can we not let the big boys (Excelight, Opnext, Cyoptics, Intel, Finisar) fight it out?

Luxtera, Lumera, Lightwire - what L's can we offer to this dying industry? :-)

lightdim 12/5/2012 | 3:46:59 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics >Luxtera, Lumera, Lightwire - what L's can we offer to this dying industry? :-)

I think the L stands for more LOSS :-)

lghtnup 12/5/2012 | 3:46:46 PM
re: Lightwire Debuts Its Silicon Photonics I don't care to much for their first product. What I do care about is the technology. Could this be used to integrate large scale photonics? Could this be a better and even cheaper Infinera some day?
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