Back to top

The indispensable source for professionals who create, implement and service technology solutions for entrepreneurs to enterprise.

In the Zone

Silicon photonics: Meet Intel’s new products & distribution options

Peter Krass's picture

by Peter Krass on 06/07/2022
Blog Category: cloud-and-data-centers

If you have customers interested in optical transceivers, Intel has big news for you. The company recently broadened its range of products based on silicon photonics. Intel has also improved the availability of these products by striking new deals with national and international distributors.

Optical transceivers are used in fiber-optic networks, where they convert high-speed electrical signals into equally high-speed optical signals. These networks are fast—up to 1,000x that of wireless—and may have a long reach of up to 10 km. (approx. 6.2 miles) for client interfaces.

More specifically, optical transceivers are high-complexity subsystems used by a variety of organizations. These include large cloud providers, telecom and hosting companies, IT service providers, and most large corporate data centers.

You can find optical transceivers in a wide range of networking devices. These include Ethernet, Fibre Channel and InfiniBand switches; optical core and metro transport equipment; IP routers; server network interface cards (NICs) and storage host bus adapters (HBAs); as well as more specialized devices like load balancers and network security appliances.

Silicon photonics is Intel’s approach to optical transceivers, involving the company’s unique photonic integrated circuit (PIC) technology.

Faster sales, faster speeds

Another thing that’s fast is the growth of the silicon photonics market. By 2021 Intel had sold more than 5 million units. That’s a million units more than Intel had sold by 2020, and 3 million more than the company had sold by 2019.

Fast gains are also coming to performance. Intel had initially fully ramped production on 100G devices. Last year Intel announced a 400G version, and that, along with a 200G version, is also now in full production.

Intel 400G optical transceiver

Intel Silicon Photonics Optical Transceiver: 400G

Intel has also announced its intention to produce an 800G version. That’s probably a lot more bandwidth than your customers need. But the largest telecom and cloud players are already into 200G and 400G, and that’s the kind of extra oomph they’ll want next. Intel’s road map looks even further ahead, with plans for 1.6T.

It’s worth noting that Intel manufactures its optical transceivers in the United States and Southeast Asia—and not, as most of its competitors do, in China. That’s important for at least two reasons. One, avoiding trade tariffs helps Intel with pricing. And two, because these parts are not sourced in China, they can be purchased by U.S. government agencies.

Broader product range

As recently as a year ago, Intel offered only a couple of silicon photonics products. Now the company has 7. Here’s what’s currently in production and available for purchase:

> 100G PSM4 QSFP28: Offering up to 2 km. (approx. 1.2 mi.) reach on parallel single-mode fiber, it’s fully compliant with 100G PSM4 MSA, QSFP28 and CAUI-4 specs.

> 100G CWDM4 QSFP28: Available in your choice of 500 meters, 2 km. or 10 km. reach on duplex single-mode fiber.

> 100G DR/FR/LR QSFP28: Offering a reach of up to 10 km. over duplex single-mode fiber, it comes in the QSFP28 form factor. This device is also plug-compatible with 100G CWDM4.

> 100G LR4 QSFP28: With a reach of up to 10 km., it’s fully compliant with LR4, OTU4, QSFP28 and CAUI-4 specs.

> 200G FR4 QSFP56: Faster speed, and a range of up to 2 km.

> 400G FR4 QSFP-DD: Faster yet, with the same 2 km. range.

> 400G DR4+ QSFP-DD: Supports breakout applications to 4x 100G FR QSFP28, for up to 2 km.

That’s a lot of abbreviations, so here are a few. QSFP is quad small form-factor pluggable. CWDM is coarse wavelength division multiplexing. PSM is parallel single mode. And DD stands in for double density, referring to a type of electrical connector used in QSFP-DD.

To supplement these products, Intel also offers 100G Active Optical Cables (AOC) in lengths of up to 100 meters (328 feet).

New distribution options

To meet the growing demand for these transceivers, Intel has a new partner in TD SYNNEX. That company, the result of the 2021 merger of Tech Data and SYNNEX, is now Intel’s distributor for silicon photonics products in the Americas, EMEA and China/Asia-Pacific.

In addition, Intel has assigned two other companies to distribute engineering samples in the U.S.: Mouser Electronics and Digi-Key Electronics.

Looking ahead, there could be new opportunities if you work for a large VAR, systems integrator or hosting provider. Intel looks to enlist the top 100 of these channel players to serve silicon-photonics demand among their data-center customers.

Get connected:

> Intel Silicon Photonics (main webpage)

> Intel Silicon Photonics – overview flyer (PDF)

> Intel Silicon Photonics – products page

> Optical Networking at Scale with Intel Silicon Photonics (Intel Partner University training course)


Back to top