Is Silicon Photonics a disruptive technology ?

Many in the industry have predicted that Silicon Photonics (SiP) will enable inexpensive, mass produced optical connectivity, radically changing the optical components and modules industry. Our analysis suggests this will not happen in the next 5 years, but sales of SiP-based optical products may reach $1 billion by 2020, accounting for about 10% of the market.

As often happens with new technologies, product sales are starting to ramp up just as industry expectations start to fade, as illustrated in Figure (Typical trend for cross-correlation between industry expectation for new technologies and product sales) above.

It seems clear that several SiP suppliers demonstrated that this technology works. However, it is up to the manufacturing engineers and business managers of these suppliers to show that SiP products can be made in high volume at a competitive cost and generate profits to fund development of next generation products.

Competition from more established InP and GaAs technologies will be fierce in 2016-2021. There is not a single SiP-based product on the market that does not have an alternative made using InP and GaAs optics. However, if SiP-based products can weather the fierce competition from more established technologies and gain a beach-head in this market by 2020, it may disrupt the market over the next decade. Such a disruption will require development of wafer-scale optical manufacturing, packaging and testing technologies, compatible with 3D wafer stacking for integration with electronics.

Forecasting technological disruptions is probably just as hard as predicting earthquakes. Being prepared seems to be the only practical strategy. Even a distant possibility of a disruption has justified investment into SiP technology by Cisco, which was then followed by many other equipment suppliers. Optical integration start-ups continue to raise funding and all established suppliers of components and modules have SiP technology on their roadmap. The chances for success in these efforts are still low and distant, but no vendor can afford to ignore the possibility of a disruption.

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