March 26, 2020

LightCounting reports on highlights from the virtual OFC 2020.

What did you think of the new OFC? Didn't it seem safer and healthier? There was no drinking or smoking, and no radiation exposure while up in the air. Being environmentally conscious is important, of course, but we are certainly looking forward to a live event next year.

In the meantime, please stay safe and do not worry too much about the deteriorating economic situation. It will be behind us eventually. Stick to the long-term view, shown in the Figure. We have seen two recessions before, and if recent history is a guide, the current one will be short-lived (at least for our industry). Many new applications for optical connectivity have emerged over the last two decades, and there will be newer ones within the next decade. Just like with the duration of downturns, the trend points towards shorter reach optical connections. Will optics replace the copper traces on printed circuit boards next?

Sales and applications of optical transceivers in 1998-2030.


The transition to co-packaged optics (CPO) was undoubtedly a highlight of the virtual OFC sessions. The industry is divided on this topic, and that made even the virtual discussions entertaining. The Tuesday night Rump session had close to 200 virtual attendees and an adequate number of people in the room as well. Three camps emerged early in the discussion.

The pro-CPO/Silicon Photonics camp converged around Facebook and Intel. Alibaba presented a strong case for pluggable optics. IBM was a lonely but powerful voice in favor of VCSEL-based CPO. IBM manufactured a VCSEL-based co-packaged solution for the Power 775

Supercomputer more than ten years ago, and they are doing so again currently with faster VCSELs produced by Finisar (now II-VI) for a research contract funded by the ARPA-E ENLITENED program. IBM’s new solution is targeting reaches up to 30 meters over MMF, and can potentially replace AOCs and DACs in datacenters, supercomputers, and AI clusters. The CPO Collaboration established by Facebook and Microsoft in 2019 is addressing longer reach connectivity, up to 2km, over SMF as an alternative to pluggable transceivers widely deployed in mega datacenters.

The heated debate of the Rump session was quite lively. All three camps presented compelling cases, and all of them are right, according to the LightCounting forecast for CPO published as a research note at the end of 2019. All three approaches will find applications over the next decade, so what is the point of arguing? Greed as each looks to gain as much market share as possible as soon as possible? Most likely, it is all about money again and possibly about making the world a better place.

LightCounting clients can access full text of the research note by logging into their on-line accounts:

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