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Silicon Photonics Becoming a System Play

By Lisa Huff, Principal Analyst, Ovum

Silicon Photonics (SiPh) has been under development for more than 20 years. And, several companies have brought products to market only to have them fail. However, there are three companies that stand out with at least moderate success – Cisco (through its Lightwire acquisition), Luxtera and Intel. The following table summarizes some of the SiPh suppliers and the status of their projects.


Company Silicon Photonics Play
Acacia Merchant devices for coherent 100G, 200G, 400G and above
Ciena Its coherent solution is based partially on SiPh
Intel Merchant devices for 40G and 100G CWDM and PSM4. 400G development
Luxtera (now Cisco) One of the first startups to focus on SiPh. Has 100G PSM4 modules, optical engines
Cisco CPAK modules from its Lightwire acquisition, Luxtera acquisition
Elenion Startup focused on SiPh. Provides a monolithic Integrated Modulator / Receiver Assembly (IMRA) for 100/200G transceivers.
MACOM Silicon PIC platform for optical integration for transceivers
Mellanox Shut down its 1550nm SiPh program
Juniper Acquired Aurrion – no announced plans as of yet, but we believe they are getting close to a product
Huawei and Nokia In-house development of SiPh

As switching and routing products evolve, the overall cost has shifted from being largely application-specific integrated circuits (ASICs)-based to optical components based. So it makes sense now when increasingly systems manufacturers are acquiring or developing their own optical components solutions.

Cisco’s acquisition of Luxtera will allow it to improve its SiPh portfolio and reduce cost by leveraging Luxtera's strengths in optical chip manufacturing. Ovum believes that consolidation is necessary to make the optical networking space healthier – especially on the components side. Cisco's acquisition of Luxtera certainly helps decrease competition, but more importantly, it gives Cisco targeted vertical integration. Luxtera's products are currently used inside the data center – where Cisco's current SiPh offering can be found. What Luxtera adds is a highly automated optical assembly process that Cisco lacked. This will allow the switch giant to move into development of onboard optics, which will be needed as data rates increase and copper connections to chips run out of steam. It also gives Cisco an even better insight into the Internet Content Provider (ICP) network since Luxtera has existing relationships there. Cisco may also have acquired Luxtera to develop higher-density products that differentiate from open compute and white-box solutions.

While companies like Luxtera and Intel have been working on SiPh for more than a decade, commercialization of the technology has not come quickly. Luxtera had its first products released in about 2006 as 40G ones, but it was a small niche at best. Intel’s success within the industry has come very recently – within the last few years.

Some of the products that are currently shipping include Intel’s 100G CWDM4 and PSM4; Luxtera’s 100G PSM4 modules and its optical engines that are used in active optical cables (AOCs); Acacia’s 100G, 200G and 400G products; Ciena’s 400G coherent solution and Elenion’s optical engines. Ovum is in the process of researching the SiPh market and is expected to release a full report in 2Q19. We are cautiously optimistic that this promising technology may have finally come to fruition. Our preliminary forecasts show that SiPh devices may be as much as 20% of the revenue of the overall optical transceiver market – and that share is growing.

All of the companies in the above table, and more, will be exhibiting at OFC 2019.

Posted: 1 February 2019 by Lisa Huff, Principal Analyst, Ovum | with 0 comments

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The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exposition (OFC)  or its sponsors.