‘Holey Optochip’ first to transfer 1trn bits of information per second – IBM

8 Mar 2012

Photomicrograph of IBM Holey Optochip. The original chip dimensions are 5.2 mm x 5 .8 mm. Image by IBM

A new optical chipset by IBM that can transfer 1trn bits, or 1 terabit, of information per second could transform how data is used, shared and accessed for computing, communications and entertainment.

IBM scientists have developed “Holey Optochip”, what they say is the first parallel optical transceiver to transfer 1 terabit of information per second, which is the equivalent of downloading 500 high-definition movies.

“Holey Optochip” also has the potential to move huge volumes of data, such as posts to social media sites, digital pictures and videos posted online, sensors used to gather climate information, and transaction records of online purchases.  

With the ability to move information at blazing speeds – eight times faster than parallel optical components available today, IBM said – the raw speed of one transceiver is equivalent to the bandwidth consumed by 100,000 users at today’s typical 10 Mbps high-speed internet access. Or, it would take just around an hour to transfer the entire U.S. Library of Congress web archive through the transceiver.  

“Reaching the 1trn bit per second mark with the ‘Holey Optochip’ marks IBM’s latest milestone to develop chip-scale transceivers that can handle the volume of traffic in the era of big data,” said IBM researcher Clint Schow, part of the team that built the prototype.

“We have been actively pursuing higher levels of integration, power efficiency and performance for all the optical components through packaging and circuit innovations. We aim to improve on the technology for commercialisation in the next decade with the collaboration of manufacturing partners.”  

Optical networking offers the potential to significantly improve data transfer rates by speeding the flow of data using light pulses, instead of sending electrons over wires. Because of this, researchers have been looking for ways to make use of optical signals within standard low-cost, high-volume chip manufacturing techniques for widespread use, IBM said.

IBM scientists developed the “Holey Optochip” by fabricating 48 holes through a standard silicon CMOS chip. The holes allow optical access through the back of the chip to 24 receiver and 24 transmitter channels to produce an ultra-compact, high-performing and power-efficient optical module capable of record setting data transfer rates.