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IBM optical chip set allows instant downloads

By Ben Ames
March 26, 2007 12:00 PM ET

IDG News Service - Editor's Note: This story should have made it clear in the first paragraph that the new IBM optical chipset would be eight times faster than current optical technology. Also, the story should have made it clear in the sixth paragraph that a separate comparison was in reference to typical consumer Internet connections. The text below was corrected on Thursday, March 29, around 8:30 a.m.

IBM Corp. researchers showed a prototype optical transceiver chipset Monday they say will allow people to share online data eight times faster than current commercial fiber-optic technology allows.

The chip set can move data at 160Gbit/sec. by representing information as light pulses instead of electrons and could be used for both corporate and consumer applications as soon as 2010, IBM said.

Consumer demand for digital media such as movies, music and photos has caused an explosion in the amount of data being transferred over the Internet and underlined the need for greater bandwidth and connectivity, said T.C. Chen, vice president for science and technology at IBM Research, in a statement.

IBM says it can meet that need, building its new chip set by making an optical transceiver with standard CMOS technology and combining that with optical components crafted from exotic materials such as indium phosphide and gallium arsenide. The resulting package is just 3.25 mm by 5.25 mm in size, small enough to be integrated onto a printed circuit board.

Although all those technologies exist today, it will probably be at least three years until suppliers can produce enough parts for IBM to bring optical transceivers into its product stream, the company said.

When it does arrive, the part could have an immediate impact on applications from computing to communications and entertainment. A PC using that board would be able to reduce the download time of a typical high-definition feature-length movie to just one second, compared to 30 minutes using a typical 100M-bit home office Ethernet connection, the company said.

The demand for bandwidth has also pushed other chip makers to explore optical circuits. In September, researchers at Intel Corp. and the University of California at Santa Barbara said they had discovered how to build low-cost "laser chips" that move data much faster than standard copper wire interconnects. That could help eliminate the bottleneck of feeding data to processors that are becoming ever faster according to Moore's Law, they said. And in December, IBM said it had found a way to slow down speeding photons, allowing them to store data as light instead of electricity.

IBM did the work with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Researchers will present details of the project on March 29 in a report at the Optical Fiber Conference in Anaheim, California. The full name of the chip set is the "160Gbit/sec., 16-channel, full-duplex, single-chip CMOS optical transceiver."

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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