NEPCON West - Fiberoptic Expo Conference Proceedings


REDEFINING THE PERFORMANCE LIMITS OF COPPER CIRCUITS

Authors: Joseph Fjelstad, B. Haba, Ph.D. and Para Segaram
Company: Silicon Pipe, Inc.
Date Published: 12/3/2002   Conference: NEPCON West - Fiberoptic Expo


Abstract: The late 1990s were witness to a surge of interest and investment in optoelectronics. The driving force was largely telecommunications, which was being pressured to provide greater bandwidth to satisfy the burgeoning demand by the skyrocketing internet businesses. The "internet superhighway" was straining to handle the traffic that was being generated by the ingenious products and services that were being offered and/or proposed for the immediate future. Many pundits believed that copper technology had run its course. There was no way that copper could deliver the band width necessary for next generation routers, based on their view and experience.

Optoelectronics technology does offer unique advantages in signal transmission and it is unexcelled in many ways. High speed, low loss, excellent signal integrity over long distances, security and nonexistent electromagnetic emissions (thus virtually no cross talk) are among the most commonly cited advantages of the technology. However, the technology is not a panacea. Lacking a photonic transistor, traditional electron based transistor technology must be used in signal generation and processing.

Thus, when a signal is transmitted from system to system, it is necessary to convert the signal electrons into photons and then back to electrons. Over long distances, this is a minor inconvenience, however over relatively short distance it can be a problem. Using current technology, this process is expensive, energy intensive and increases system latency or delay. It has been estimated that it requires up to 1.5 kilowatts of energy just to "light up" a ½ rack backplane in a high performance router. This represents a significant portion of the present energy budget of the router.

Thus optoelectronics technology, while excellent and the default choice for long haul signal transmission, is proving, thus far, to be less than ideal for short range transmissions such are required for backplanes and box-to box signal transmission with a range of nagging and often costly problems that await effective solution. While optical back planes may represent the future, product developers are in need of solutions today. Thus, while solutions are worked on to meet the challenges of optoelectronics, a number of companies are revisiting copper technology in an attempt to find ways to improve upon its performance and buy the time needed to allow optoelectronic solutions to get fully wrung out.



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