Building on the success of its predecessors, the fourth Photonic Integrated Circuits International Conference pinpointed the most promising opportunities for this industry.
Co-Conference Chairs, Dr Michael Lebby and Dr. Bill Ring both reflect on the fourth PIC International Conference.
"We have just finished the 4th annual PIC International Conference, and again like in 2018, it surpassed everybody's expectations, but what's more, folks are now recognizing throughout the value chain, from wafers to epitaxial growth, devices, packaging, modules and systems, to social media that PIC International is the conference to attend if your interest is Photonic Integrated Circuits (PICs). We again filled all of our seats, and like last year folks from CS International and Sensor Solutions International attended the PIC sessions. Our annual PIC awards generated nearly 10,000 online votes and the winners in 6 categories were announced at the end of Day 1 by the European trade association EPIC. In my humble opinion, this was the best PIC International event to date, and achieved not only world class speakers, world class presentations, but also world class networking during the exhibit hours, breaks, and meal events.
This year, there were over 700 delegates attending two days of jam-packed (and at times standing room only) sessions on photonic integrated circuits (PICs) that focused not only on innovative technology, but how PICs could alleviate major headaches that optical networks, datacenters, telecommunications systems, etc see today. Many talks focused on how PICs could be implemented into novel and innovative applications to move the industry forward, and keep the industry moving forward. As in 2018, one of the biggest drivers for PICs are fiber optic communications for datacentre interconnects. Facebook conveyed huge opportunities for innovative solutions for their datacentres that addressed high speed, low power consumption, innovative packaging (via co-packaged solutions), reliability, and cost effectiveness.
There were also talks that explored PIC based technologies outside of fiber optics, and those areas included bio, medical, sensing, and LIDAR for automotive applications. One of the most promising segments for PICs is 3D sensing, especially face recognition for mobile phones.
In this year's conference we brought together luminaries of the PIC industry to form 2 panel sessions; one on Day 1 to address high volume, high performance PICs for fiber communications, and another on Day 2 to explore the merits manufacturing PICs using shared foundries and pilot lines from all over the world. Panel members represented PIC design and manufacture from Japan, the USA and Europe.
The panel sessions generated interesting themes such as: PICs for datacentres is here and now, PICs for telecom growing quickly, PICs for non-communications markets growing very quickly.
The 1st panel on the 1st day emulated what was being said in the PIC talks: New and innovative solutions to PIC packaging is urgently needed. Co-packaging - a way to co-package PICs with electronics and to bring the photonics closer to the electronics to achieve higher switch capacities on a line card in a datacentre. Today, the popular solution is to use pluggable transceivers mounted into a faceplate. Tomorrow, speakers were conveying solutions to use not only on-board optics but co-packaged optics driven by PIC technological platforms.
The 2nd panel on the 2nd day that focused on PIC foundries and their eco-system. Panelists were questioned on the business aspects of running PIC foundry, the volume needed for sustainability, and the impact on MPW (multi-purpose wafers) or sharing costs so that SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises) can participate. Comparisons were made with the silicon industry that has developed a strong foundry model over the past 30 years. In photonics, and in particular PICs, the photonics foundry model is developing and still in its infancy. Panelists discussed the merits of what photonic PIC foundries need to assist in success. One area that was frequently raised during both the panel and in foundry-based presentations was volume. While GaAs VCSEL based PICs are experiencing consumer success and volume activity with the application of structured light for optical sensing, other PIC based applications are not consumer based and the high volumes still have not materialized. Silicon photonics has the potential to drive costs very low with 200mm and 300mm wafers and is still looking for a high-volume vehicle. Indium phosphide PICs are on smaller wafers (75mm and 100mm) and also would like to see high volumes and even larger format wafers at 150mm.
The conference discussed in detail incumbent PIC technologies such as InP and GaAs, as well as Silicon Photonics (SiP), Polymer Photonics (PP), and Dielectric Photonics (DP). Silicon photonics continues to grow in use and popularity with companies such as Intel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, AIM Photonics, Rockley Photonics showing the impact of silicon economics. Infinera and Ciena showed very high-performance PIC results on InP, while companies such as Broadex and LioniX showed significant progress with dielectric photonics. Lightwave Logic also reported on their very low voltage, very high bandwidth polymer results.
The conference also discussed both datacentre and telecommunications opportunities for PICs with forecasts for new architectures, standards, technologies and cost expectations. The latest results in the PIC field were also presented and showed a significant performance upgrade towards transceivers at 400Gbps and some speakers spoke of 800Gbps, 1600Gbps and beyond.
There were a number of exciting sessions, where one session discussed improvements in PIC infrastructure for designing and manufacturing robust and reliable PICs using software tools for modelling, simulation, and production. This was supported by many PIC talks that addressed PDKs and other metrics needed to quickly grow PIC markets.
This year, new and innovative talks discussed how PICs based technologies can enable new products that are more miniature, low power, and high performance, which is becoming especially important for hand-held battery powered diagnosis and health monitoring products. CARDIS - an EU funded program and award winner is one example of using SiP PICs for medical diagnosis.
The conference speakers showed that the result of designing PICs for the popular verticals of telecommunications and data communications and how these solutions could easily be applied to medical, measurement, automotive, and other industrial applications for PICs. Perhaps by next year's PIC conference we will see the first products emerge in these new market segments.
The good news is that some of these opportunities will be high volume such as GaAs VCSEL arrays for sensing (as used by mobile phones). The opportunities that consumer markets will bring to PIC based technologies is only just beginning, and we will have to wait to see how the extreme high-volume ramps will play out over the next year.
All presentations showed a number of improvements in the technology over the past 12 months. PIC markets are growing strongly to 10s of $B over the next decade, as well as the scalability of PIC technological platforms. The rise of the hybrid PIC, the co-packaged platform, and shared foundries as noted by the panellists showed that customers are now more open than ever to find the right PIC solution for their particular portfolio.
A focused and well attended conference, with a high level of technical content, PIC International surpassed itself again in 2019. PIC International is the conference to attend for the latest and greatest in photonic integrated circuits and has become a truly global and credible event.