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PIC International 2019 Surpasses Expectations, Sets New Benchmarks


Building on the success of its predecessors, the fourth Photonic Integrated Circuits (PIC) International Conference pinpointed the most promising opportunities for this industry. More than 700 attended the co-located conferences that focused on advances in PICs, compound semiconductors and the future of advanced sensor solutions.

Conference Co-Chairs, Dr. Michael Lebby and Dr. Bill Ring, praised the leadership and organization of the fourth photonic integrated circuits (PIC) International Conference that took place 26-27 March in Brussels. 2019 marked the fourth consecutive year of growth, with more than 700 attendees and 70 sponsors joining to hear from industry leaders focused on advanced technologies driving the future of global business.

"We have just finished the fourth annual PIC International Conference, and again like in 2018, it surpassed everybody's expectations. But what's more, folks are now recognizing throughout the value chain, from wafers to epitaxial growth, devices, packaging, modules and systems, to social media that PIC International is the conference to attend if your interest is photonic integrated circuits (PICs). We again filled all of our seats, and like last year folks from CS International and SSI attended the PIC sessions. Our annual PIC awards generated nearly 10,000 online votes and the winners in six categories were announced at the end of Day One by the European trade association, EPIC. In (our) humble opinion, this was the best PIC International event to date, and achieved not only world class speakers, world class presentations, but also world class networking during the exhibit hours, breaks, and meal events,” remarked co-chairmen, Dr. Michael Lebby and Dr. Bill Ring following the event.

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The prestigious PIC industry awards entered their third year. Winners were voted for by the PIC industry and include the following honorees:

Individual Awards:

1) PIC Lifetime Achievement award - Professor Martin Schell

2) PIC Individual Contributor award - Professor Graham Reed

Company Awards:

1) Best Achievement in PIC development - VLC Photonics

2) Best Achievement in PIC platform - Lightwave Logic

3) Best new PIC-enabled product or achievement in optical-fibered modules - PHIX

4) Best new PIC-enabled product or achievement in non-optical-fibered modules: H2020-Project CARDIS http://www.cardis-h2020.eu/

In 2019 more than 700 delegates attended two days of jam-packed (and at times, standing room only) sessions on photonic integrated circuits (PICs) that focused not only on innovative technology, but how PICs could alleviate major headaches that optical networks, datacenters, telecommunications systems and related applications see today. Many talks focused on how PICs could be implemented into novel and innovative applications to move the industry forward while at the same time providing the long-term scalability needed to grow an industry for decades to come. As in 2018, one of the biggest drivers for PICs are fiber optic communications for datacentre interconnects. Facebook spoke about the huge opportunities for innovative solutions within their datacentres that addressed high speed, low power consumption, innovative packaging (via co-packaged solutions), reliability, and cost effectiveness. Companies like Facebook are looking for PIC leadership, quality and reliability in their bid to replace slower, lower bandwidth legacy systems that are already creating data bottlenecks.

There were also talks that explored PIC based technologies outside of fiber optics including biologic and health monitoring/diagnoses, medical, sensing, and LiDAR for automotive applications. One of the most promising segments for PICs is 3D sensing, especially face recognition for mobile phones.

This year's conference brought together luminaries of the PIC industry who participated in two panel sessions: the first on Day One addressed high volume, high performance PICs for fiber communications; the second on Day Two explored the merits of manufacturing PICs using shared foundries and pilot lines from all over the world. Panel members represented PIC design and manufacturers from Japan, the USA and Europe. The panel sessions generated interesting themes such as: PICs for datacentres are already entering service; PICs for telecom are a quickly growing opportunity; PICs for non-communications markets also rapidly expanding.

In a sense, the Day One panel emulated what was being said in the PIC talks: New and innovative solutions to PIC packaging are urgently needed. One solution advocated by panelists is generally referred to as co-packaging - a way to package PICs along with electronics as a means to bring the photonics closer to the electronics and thereby achieve higher switch capacities on a line card in a datacentre. Today, the popular solution is to use pluggable transceivers mounted into a faceplate. Speakers said that for tomorrow, they supported solutions to use not only on-board optics, but co-packaged optics driven by PIC technological platforms.

The Day Two panel session focused on PIC foundries and their eco-system. Panelists were questioned on the business aspects of running a PIC foundry, the volume needed for sustainability, and the impact on MPW (multi-project wafers) or sharing costs so that SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) can participate. Comparisons were made with the silicon industry that has developed a strong foundry model over the past 30 years. In photonics, and in particular PICs, the photonics foundry model is just developing and still in its infancy. Panelists discussed the merits of what photonic PIC foundries need to assist in success. One area that was frequently raised during both panel session discussions and in foundry-based presentations was volume. While GaAs VCSEL-based PICs are experiencing consumer success and volume activity with the application of structured light for optical sensing, other PIC-based applications are not consumer based and as such similar high volumes have yet not materialized. Silicon photonics has the potential to drive costs very low with 200mm and 300mm wafers and is still looking for a high-volume vehicle. Indium phosphide PICs are on smaller wafers (75mm and 100mm) and also would like to see high volumes and even larger format wafers at 150mm.

The conference discussed in detail incumbent PIC technologies such as InP and GaAs, as well as Silicon Photonics (SiP), Polymer Photonics (PP), and Dielectric Photonics (DP). Silicon photonics continues to grow in use and popularity with companies such as Intel, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, AIM Photonics, and Rockley Photonics showing the impact of silicon economics. Infinera and Ciena showed very high-performance PIC results on indium phosphide, while companies such as Broadex and LioniX showed significant progress with dielectric photonics. Lightwave Logic also reported their results with very low voltage, very high bandwidth polymer device designs.

The conference also discussed both datacentre and telecommunications opportunities for PICs with forecasts for new architectures, standards, technologies and cost expectations. The latest results in the PIC field were also presented and showed a significant performance upgrade towards transceivers at 400Gbps while some speakers spoke about a future aiming towards 800Gbps, 1600Gbps and beyond.

There were a number of exciting sessions, including those that emphasized the role of software tools for modelling, simulation, and production. One session discussed improvements in PIC infrastructure for designing and manufacturing robust and reliable PICs using the latest in advanced software design tools. This was supported by many PIC talks that addressed PDKs and other metrics needed to quickly grow PIC markets.

This year, new and innovative talks discussed how PIC-based technologies can enable new products that have smaller form factors, low power, and high performance, which is becoming especially important for hand-held battery powered diagnosis and health monitoring products. CARDIS, an EU-funded program and 2019 PIC Award winner, is one example of using SiP PICs for medical diagnosis.

Conference speakers also addressed new opportunities that can arise as the result of designing PICs for telecommunications and datacom applications and the ways in which these telecom/datacom PIC designs could easily be applied to medical, measurement, automotive, and other industrial applications. Perhaps by next year's PIC International Conference we will see the first products emerge in these new market segments.

Conference speakers also shared the good news that a number of emerging opportunities for PICs will be high volume, such as GaAs VCSEL arrays for sensing (as used by mobile phones). They emphasized that opportunities in consumer markets for PIC-based technologies are only just beginning to be realized, and we will have to wait to see how the extreme high-volume ramps will play out over the next year and beyond.

All presentations showed a number of improvements in the technology over the past 12 months. PIC markets are growing strongly to tens of billions of euros over the next decade, while the scalability of PIC technological platforms is also expected to significantly increase. The rise of the hybrid PIC, the co-packaged platform, and shared foundries as noted by conference panelists showed that customers are now more open than ever to find the right PIC solution for their particular portfolio and market requirement.

“A focused and well attended conference, with a high level of technical content, PIC International surpassed itself again in 2019. PIC International is the conference to attend for the latest and greatest in photonic integrated circuits; it has become a truly global event. 2020 in Brussels, Belgium should be even better than 2019 and truly world-class – We look forward to next year with anticipation."

Michael Lebby and Bill Ring
Co-Conference Chairs

We are delighted to announce that the dates for PIC International 2020 are confirmed for Tuesday 31st March and Wednesday 1st April.

With many sponsorship and exhibition opportunities already secured for next year's show, make sure you don't miss out! Email: info@picinternational.net or call +44 (0)24 7671 8970.

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