July 17, 2018

LightCounting reports on the IEEE Optical Interconnects Conference

Ali Ghiasi, the general co-chair of the June, 2018, IEEE Optical Interconnects Conference held in Santa Fe opened the conference with a slide titled: “All Roads End in Co-Packaging”, a statement that portends the eventual end of pluggable optical modules. This, along with 100 Gb/s signaling, were the two main themes of the conference.

In the chart below, Ali suggested that the steady ramp to higher electrical signaling speeds on boards and backplanes will end with 100 Gb/s. Pluggable modules and passive DAC assemblies will be practical at 100G/lane electrical but Ali suggests that will be the final evolution of pluggable modules and conventional backplanes. Cabled backplanes are already an option for years to come, but he suggests that optical IO must reach all the way to the ASIC after 100G. Many other conference speakers and panelists seemed to agree but no one underestimated the great challenges ahead for such a paradigm shift.

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Source: Ali Ghiasi, Ghiasi Quantum LLC

In a workshop session on “100 Gb/s Signaling: Enabling Next-Generation Interconnects”, another seven panelists were mostly optimistic about the advantages and timeline to make the next SerDes leap. Brad Booth of Microsoft sees it in 2022/23+ for the 1.6Tb generation. Cisco’s Mark Nowell believes most of the optics industry will go with 4x100G and suggests a QSFP112-DD module for 8x100G in and out. He also noted that 3D memory, a form of copackaging, took ten years.

Chris Cole of Finisar injected concerns with the “industry obsession with 100g/lane”, noting that for the first time, the industry is splitting its investment between two speeds (50G and 100G). He sees 56G/lane for 4-6 years with more investment still needed at 56G for cost and power. Cole said 7nm CMOS will bring only 20-30% power reduction and there will be no ROI for many years on 100G investments.

Andy Bechtolsheim of Arista Networks is very bullish on 100G SerDes but wants to avoid retimers and flyover cables. He sees a denser chassis, 20% lower power and lower cost and intense market pressure to get to 100G SerDes ASAP. He suggested OSFP 2 meter DAC simulated by TE Connectivity will support 128 400G ports in a 2RU chassis without copackaging. While power will be 20% higher, distributed power is easier to cool than copackaged. No copackaging is needed to build a 51.2Tb switch.

Andy showed how yield can get clobbered with copackaging. Yield with terminating large number of fibers is much lower than that of the ASIC. Final assembly yield could drop to 50%. Packaging risk must be solved before it becomes the critical path. The only way to improve yield is with repairability. He also noted a warning that perhaps should be obvious: Time to market rules. You cannot add risk and cannot commit to copackaging until it’s proven. So we must do it the hard way first.

3D Sensing for Self-Driving Cars Reaches the Peak of Inflated Expectations

LightCounting releases a new report addressing illumination in smartphones and automotive lidarIn 2019, the market for VCSEL (vertical cavity surface-emitting laser) illumination in smartphones will exceed $1.0 billion – now nearly triple the size of the market for communications VCSELs. That’s quite remarkable for a market that didn’t exist three years ago.3D sensing in smartphones felt like an overnight sensation, but the technology foundations were laid down years ago with Microsoft’s Kinect – a motion-sensing peripheral for gamers released in 2010 but discontinued in 2017 after lackluster sales. Lumentum supplied lasers to the Kinect almost a decade before the iPhone opportunity emerged; the company was ready to profit from the iPhone X opportunity when Apple decided to launch 3D sensing for facial recognition in September 2017.

Figure: 3D depth-sensing meets the Gartner Hype Cycle

3D Sensing

Source: Gartner with edits by LightCounting

If all technologies follow the Gartner Hype Cycle, shown in the Figure above, then 3D sensing in smartphones is now moving up the slope of enlightenment. Android brands raced to add 3D sensing to their flagship phones in 2018 – the Xiaomi Mi8 Explorer and Oppo Find X phones were first – although these only sold in single digit million quantities. Huawei also brought out new phones with 3D sensing, but the ongoing U.S. export ban on the Chinese company must be hurting the company’s traction outside China. Apple continues to dominate the market as all new iPhones released by Apple since 2017 have included 3D sensing on the front of the phone. Apple is expected to introduce 3D sensing for ‘world-facing’ applications in 2020, which adds another laser chip to every phone.

Last year illumination for lidars were not included in our market forecast since LightCounting considered it unlikely that lidar would penetrate the consumer market to any great extent over the forecast period. All indicators now point to a market for lidar illumination ramping up in 2022 and beyond. Optical components firms are now shipping prototypes and samples of VCSELs, edge emitters and coherent lasers to customers developing next-generation lidar systems – many of them building on their expertise in illumination for optical communications and smartphones.

As was the case with smartphones, the foundations for lidar technology were laid down much earlier – in this case with the DARPA Challenge 2007, where the winning vehicle used a 64-laser lidar system from Velodyne Acoustics (now Velodyne Lidar). Lidar is considered by the majority of the industry to be an essential part of the sensor suite required for autonomous driving, helping the vehicle to navigate through the environment and detect obstacles in its path. The first commercial deployments have begun. In Germany, lidar on the Audi A8 enables the car to drive itself for limited periods under specific conditions. In Phoenix, Arizona, you can hail a ride in a Waymo robotaxi.

Investor enthusiasm for lidar is undeniable with nearly half a billion dollars invested in lidar start-ups in 2019 according to our analysis of publicly available investment data. Notable deals include $60 million for U.S. company Ouster in March, Israel’s Innoviz Technologies Series C round of $132 million in the same month, and $100 million for U.S.-based Luminar Technologies in July. Interestingly, these examples illustrate the variety of lidar approaches: each company is building a different type of lidar based on a different wavelength: 850nm for Ouster, 905nm for Innoviz and 1550nm in the case of Luminar. There’s an open technology battle and they can’t all be winners.

The automotive lidar market seems to be close to the peak of ‘inflated expectations’. It’s easy to understand why. The automotive industry is enormous, with nearly 100 million vehicles (including trucks) produced annually. Players like Baidu, GM Cruise and Waymo are backed by deep corporate pockets, and new entrants like Aurora and Pony.ai are attracting hundreds of millions in investment. Intel’s $15.3 billion purchase of Mobileye in 2017 was also directed at autonomous driving. Sensor company AMS is in a $4.8 billion battle to acquire German semiconductor lighting firm Osram with its eye firmly on lidar.

However, signs indicate that the descent into the trough of disillusionment could have already begun. Waymo has yet to roll out its robotaxi services more widely – and this summer admitted that its vehicles needed more testing in the rain. GM Cruise has delayed launch of commercial services for self-driving cars beyond 2019 and is reluctant to commit to a new timescale, with its CEO Dan Ammann observing that safety is paramount; automotive is not an industry where you can “move fast and break things” he said. A casualty of the slow pace was optical phased array lidar developer Oryx Vision, which closed its doors in August and started to hand money back to investors.

While lidar is being deployed commercially today, prices are not conducive to mass production, and there are open questions around regulation, safety, ethics and consumer acceptance. Do local laws prohibit self-driving cars? Will they really be safer than humans? Who is responsible for a crash? LightCounting remains skeptical about the pace of adoption of autonomous vehicles, but will be watching the market closely and with optimism.

More information on the report is available at: https://www.lightcounting.com/Sensing.cfm.


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