Eindhoven, July 2020 – For those new to the subject, a System-on-Chip (SoC) is essentially an integrated electronic circuit that takes a single platform and integrates a whole electronic or computer system onto it. As the name suggests, it combines that entire system on a single chip.
To describe it very simply: imagine a full computer with a CPU, input and output ports, internal memory and so on; then miniaturise and compress it to fit on one chip. Depending on the kind of system, it can perform a variety of functions including signal processing, wireless communication, artificial intelligence and more.
The primary goal is to reduce energy waste and save on expense, while reducing the space occupied by large systems. With an SoC you achieve all those goals, as you essentially downsize what are normally multi-chip designs onto a single processor that uses much less power.
The real-world applications of SoCs are practically limitless and priceless. They are used in most, if not all, portable devices, such as smartphones, cameras, tablets, and other wireless technologies. In fact, your smartphone is a good example of how an SoC works.
Use of your cell phone is not limited to making and receiving calls. You also use it to browse the internet, view videos, listen to audio, take photos, play games, send texts, and much more. None of this would be possible without multiple elements such as a graphics card, internet support, wireless connections, and GPS, to name but a few. An SoC allows you to take all of these components, put them on a single chip, shrink the whole package down to a size that can fit in the palm of your hand, and carry it around in your phone.
Along with the example of our portable phones, SoC is frequently used in equipment involved in the Internet of Things, embedded systems and, of course, photonics.
EFFECT Photonics’ spin on SoC
While electrical SoCs have been around for some time, EFFECT Photonics is the first company in the world to introduce a full optical SoC – combining all the optical elements needed for optical networking onto a single die.
One key application of EFFECT Photonics’ SoC technology is within dense wavelength division multiplexing (DWDM), and this is regarded as an important innovation in optical networks. DWDM is scalable, transparent and enables provision of high-bandwidth services. It is the technology of choice for many networking applications today. By using many different wavelengths of light to route data, these systems are more efficient, flexible, and cost-effective to build, own and operate compared to single-channel, point-to-point links. Thanks to our high-density electrical interconnect and packaging technology, the optical system-on-a-chip can be assembled for volume manufacture at low cost.
As the channel count increases, the physical space in which the equipment is housed gets larger and the power consumption increases as well. The key enablers for DWDM systems at the edge of the network are photonic integration of components within a single chip; and the ability to produce these in volume with high yield at low cost. This requires a change in the way indium phosphide (InP) chips are designed, tested, and packaged, which is where EFFECT Photonics comes in.
One of the key challenges for DWDM technology is the need for as many optical light sources, modulators, and detectors as there are channels in a system. Building and managing these using conventional discrete fibre optic components, line cards, AWG (arrayed waveguide) multiplexers and rackmount channel monitors quickly becomes prohibitively expensive. However, we can integrate all the following optical functions within a single InP chip: tuneable laser sources, AWG multiplexers, high-speed detectors, high-speed modulators, power taps and splitters, and channel monitoring.
Our SoC technology provides more bandwidth at a lower cost for applications like mobile fronthaul networks (5G), metro access networks and data centre interconnects (DCI). EFFECT Photonics has created a unique platform approach to integration, using high-yielding building blocks within the wafer. Growing different quaternary alloys of indium phosphide on a single wafer provides the following advantages:
• All active and passive optical functions of a DWDM system combined into a single chip
• Our unique packaging technology that scales in volume cost-effectively [parallel structure]
• Smaller in size, lower in power
• Industry-standard form factors and custom variants