IBM's technology could one day result in chips that can send data at a rate of more than 1 trillion bit (Terabit) per second, which is 25 times the capacity of similar optical components used in the fastest computers today. Yurii Vlasov, manager of IBM's silicon integrated nanophotonics efforts, said the company expects the first commercial products could hit the market in three to five years.
Currently, we already use lasers to send pulses of light through fiber optic cables for long-distance communications. Research to increase speeds to 1Tbps and 100Tbps is already underway, but that's still limited to the network of fiber optic cables. There's a major bottleneck that occurs when the data reaches its destination and needs to enter the electrical network of a computer.
The field that solves the problem is called silicon photonics. IBM isn't the only company that has been conducting research in it to find a solution to the problem: Intel and a smaller company by the name of Luxtera have also been working on silicon components that could attain speeds of fiber optics. The biggest hurdle is replicating the optical functions inside a tiny chip.