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Synopsys, Juniper Networks fuse to tackle silicon photonics

The 'OpenLight' union aims for on-chip lasers with help from Intel's recent add, Tower Semiconductor

Synopsys and Juniper Networks are targeting the silicon photonics market via a newly established company to let third parties produce devices with integrated on-chip lasers using Tower Semiconductor's production facilities.

Named OpenLight, the company was effectively formed in April by an agreement between Synopsys and Juniper Networks that saw Juniper's silicon photonics assets spun out into a separate concern, which is now 75 percent owned by Synopsys and the remainder by Juniper.

OpenLight said it aims to accelerate the development of high-performance photonic integrated circuits (PICs) for applications such as data communications, telecoms, Lidar, healthcare, HPC, AI, and optical computing.

The technology has passed qualification and reliability tests with Tower Semiconductor's PH18DA fabrication process, OpenLight said. It expects reference designs for 400G and 800G transceivers with integrated lasers to be available in "summer 2022," as well as the first open multi-project wafer (MPW) shuttle run on the PH18DA process. The latter refers to a silicon wafer that contains chip designs from many customers as a way of spreading the manufacturing costs.

OpenLight is pitching its laser integration as a key advantage of its technology in the hope of drawing customers looking to produce chips for silicon photonics applications. Silicon photonics use light instead of electrical cables to link not just computers but possibly individual chips, yet getting the laser source down onto chip level has been a stumbling block in the past.

By processing the indium phosphide materials for a semiconductor laser directly onto the silicon photonics wafer, OpenLight said Tower's PH18DA fabrication process reduces the cost and improves power efficiency, as well as simplifying packaging.

OpenLight chief operating officer Dr Thomas Mader said the silicon photonics market is being driven by growing demand for greater bandwidth to analyze, store, and move around large volumes of data. "OpenLight's open silicon photonics platform with integrated lasers enables scaling from one laser to hundreds, or even thousands of lasers per PIC, all monolithically integrated at the wafer level," he said.

OpenLight's opening for business was naturally welcomed by Tower Semiconductor, which said the technology has the potential to transform the silicon photonics industry.

"Providing an open silicon photonics platform with integrated lasers that has been qualified on Tower's process will help mutual customers innovate and fuel the next generation of silicon photonics designs at scale," said Tower Semiconductor's senior VP for its Analog Business Unit, Dr Marco Racanelli.

Tower Semiconductor is in the process of being acquired by Intel, which has itself been banging the silicon photonics drum for many years. Intel was among a group of companies that recently invested in a $130 million series-C funding round for another silicon photonics company, Ayar Labs.

Meanwhile, Synopsys recently found itself the subject of an investigation by the US government over potential forbidden deals with Chinese IT giant Huawei, specifically its hardware subsidiary HiSilicon and chip foundry SMIC. ®

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