Intel tries to get devices to communicate faster

Intel on Sunday is expected to detail advances in silicon nanophotonics technology that could boost optical communication speeds.

Intel on Sunday detailed advances in an emerging field of technology that it said will boost optical communication speeds, allowing for faster data transfers between devices.

The company has developed a device, the Avalanche Photodetector (APD), that senses light pulses and amplifies output signals for faster data transfer over long distances, the company said.

Researchers claim this is a big advancement in the field of silicon photonics, in which silicon is used to transfer light pulses for data exchange between chips and devices. As computing power grows, researchers in the field are developing cheaper and faster technologies like APDs that could enable high-bandwidth applications like 3D virtual reality and telemedicine.

The APD device is an advancement over earlier photodetector technologies, which are less sensitive in detecting light signals, use more power and offer slower data rates. The APD is also made of standard silicon material, instead of the more expensive materials such as indium phosphide, Intel said.

APD can detect light at higher frequencies and moves data at rates of 40G bits per second (bps), making it more sensitive and quicker than earlier photodetectors, Intel said. The APD consumes less electrical power than standard photodetectors and is capable of saving more power over shorter distances.

Researchers at Intel said that this is the first time a photodetector made of standard silicon betters the performance of devices made from more expensive materials. By using standard silicon, Intel also hopes to provide economies of scale for high-volume production of such devices in existing fabs.

In the future, telecommunication providers could use APDs to amplify long-distance phone calls, said Mike Morse, principal engineer in the photonics technology lab at Intel. Telephone signals are converted to optical signals that go through fiber in the ground, and APDs could sit in exchanges to amplify those signals.

However, the chips are not ready for implementation as additional research is needed, Morse said.

"This is still in development so we still have a lot of learning to do. I can't predict how all of that will play out," he said.

Intel's research results is expected to be published in the Nature Photonics journal on Sunday. The company is working with Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Numonyx, University of California at Santa Barbara and University of Virginia on this research.

Many companies, including Sun and IBM are involved in silicon photonics research. Earlier this year, Sun received a US$44 million contract from DARPA to boost computing performance by enabling chip communication using lasers over silicon and to reduce power consumption by placing chips close to each other. IBM is also trying to speed up data transfers between chip cores through silicon photonics research.

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