Vodafone and partners explore new silicon photonic chipsVodafone and partners explore new silicon photonic chips
Network operator Vodafone together with partners, including Salience Labs and iPronics, are exploring new silicon photonic chips as hardware for higher capacity open RAN in a Malaga R&D centre.
September 22, 2023
Network operator Vodafone together with partners, including Salience Labs and iPronics, are exploring new silicon photonic chips as hardware for ‘higher capacity’ open RAN in a Malaga R&D centre.
UK-based Salience Labs and Valencia-based iPronics startups joined Vodafone, and other participating vendors, to advance the chip architecture with the goal to enhance new open radio access networks (open RAN). The two startups are assisting with testing the latest silicon photonics.
Light-based, silicon photonic chips are expected to be much faster than traditional electronic semiconductors. Engineers at Vodafone’s R&D centre in Malaga, Spain, are exploring the technology for the use in the operator’s mobile base stations aiming for ultra-low latency, while providing a highly programmable and more energy efficient network, according to the operator’s announcement.
Last year, scientists at the University of Oxford discovered that photonic chips can be as much as 300 times faster than their electronic equivalents. Silicon photonic chips would support the growing demand for higher data transfer rates, increasing processing power, as well as the growth in bandwidth intensive applications.
“Their integration would support the massive advances in computation seen in new technologies like generative AI, cyber security (including quantum computing), and autonomous vehicles, to name but a few.” read the Vodafone announcement.
The operator also highlights the need for a fundamental change in order to be able to scale 5G capabilities. “It’s not only AI; scaling up new 5G features also requires a step-change in processing power at the mobile base station, for example network slicing where a business, hospital or school is given their own fast connection on demand.”
Silicon photonics are already in use in data centres and the technology has already been commercialised, reportedly making silicon photonics chip manufacturing simply a matter of time. It will be interesting to see to what extent (or whether) silicon photonic chips can support operator cost reduction, alongside the other features listed, especially seeing as the Vodafone research is focused on open RAN, a technology where the debate often has revolved around lowering operator costs.
On a broader basis, the global silicon photonics market size was valued to have reached $1.28 billion in 2022 and is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 26% between 2023 and 2030, according to market research firm Grand View Research. Other estimates of the market size and growth have seen it as even more inflated.
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