A transmitter chip composed of four lasers beams light into an optical modulator which encodes data onto them at 12.5Gb/s. Those four beams are then combined and sent over a single optical fiber for a total data rate of 50Gb/s. When it reaches the opposite end of the link, a receiver chip essentially reverses the process, separating the beams and converting data back to electrical signals. By adding more lasers per chip and scaling the modulator, speeds of 1Tb/s are possible.
Intel believes its integrated hybrid silicon optics solution is poised to replace today's copper wiring, which suffers from signal degradation and is said to be reaching its limits. Silicon Photonics Link is still in its very early stages, existing solely as a concept and products based on the technology won't arrive for at least three to five years.
The chipmaker says this project is separate from Light Peak, which is "an effort to bring a multi-protocol 10Gbps optical connection to Intel client platforms for nearer-term applications." Whereas Silicon Photonics research "aims to use silicon integration to bring dramatic cost reductions, reach tera-scale data rates, and bring optical communications to an even broader set of high-volume applications."