An interview with Francisco Rodrigues, CEO at PICadvanced
In this interview series, we discuss a broad range of PIC Technology topics with our users, partners and other members of the JePPIX community. Where do the challenges and opportunities lie for JePPIX and PIC technology?
Francisco Rodrigues is Chief Executive Officer at PICadvanced S.A. From their office in, Aveiro district, Portugal, he shares with us how PICadvanced started working with JePPIX and what lies ahead.
“PICadvanced was founded in 2014 by António Teixeira, a professor from the University of Aveiro, Portugal, and still has a strong relationship with academia. The company’s main focus was to develop photonic integrated circuits (PICs) for access technologies: passive optical networks and the telecommunication sector,” explains Francisco. “The company already had some experience with photonic integration thanks to JePPIX’s multiproject wafer (MPW) services. Knowing that such services were available through JePPIX, PICadvanced was able to benefit from the shared costs for prototyping, rather than having to go for full wafers right away. This step allowed them to set up and exploit a business case in photonic integration for telecommunications.”
From discrete to integrated
“PICadvanced envisioned the development of opto-electronic transceivers for access networks. At the time, discrete photonics were used in this field. Over the last 6 years we have developed our first generation of products using such bulk discrete components. These products are now being produced and exported,” says Francisco. But from the start, through their experience with JePPIX MPW services, PICadvanced knew that being able to integrate everything onto one chip would add value for their product and customers: “Using photonic integration to bring everything onto one chip would mean faster, better and more reliable networks.”
“We are now working on launching our second generation of products, in which PICs will replace the bulk discrete parts. Besides this new product line, we’ve also been developing our know-how in other fields related to PICs. We currently have 31 employees, 27 of which are engineers and 3 of them with a PhD in related areas. In PICadvanced, we don’t just do design and simulation of PICs, but we also have a packaging team, an electronics team, a firmware and software team and a test team for our products and components. With all this expertise in house, we develop the processes for production of our product line, and we are able to develop new products in a self-contained manner. We are mainly focused on research and development of new products and processes. Mass-production is, and we will try to keep it outsourced.”
“We work on monolithic integration and we use the indium phosphide platform for this. For telecommunications, this allows us to integrate lasers and other gain related elements on a single chip. The greatest advantage of photonic integration for our market is that the bandwidth bottlenecks will become easier to break. Going from 10 gigabit per second connections to 25 or 40 gigabit per second will be easier with PICs than with discrete optics.”
“Besides this advantage for telecommunications, integrating all functionalities in one chip, and thus fabricating everything on the same wafer, allows us to better control the processes in production, leaving most of the variability outside photonics, therefore in the world of well-matured electronics. Miniaturization of optics also means that the transceivers that are already on a very small space can be used optimally. A decrease in size of chips also means we can ensure better power consumption and thermal control, allowing to include more functionalities into our PICs than if we would try to make it with discrete optics.”
MPWs boost start-up possibilities
“For a start-up like PICadvanced, it’s very complicated to ensure the investment and the readiness to go straight to private run level. Making such an investment right from the start, when you haven’t optimized your design yet, poses a high risk and can lead to great delays. MPWs are a great tool that we use to validate the foundry building blocks, our own building blocks and our architectures. It is really a stepwise approach. MPWs don’t only allow you to test and validate building blocks, but also the repeatability between runs. If you use the same foundry multiple times, you know the repeatability of their lasers, amplifiers and other active components. You can start collecting data on the performance throughout the different runs. This will help you create robust and repeatable designs.”
“Even now that we already kicked off the first private runs, we are still using MPWs through JePPIX to validate some new architectures and new building blocks. It is definitely the best tool for research and development and offers the right path for the preparation and design for a private run.”
Taking the open access route
“PICadvanced is following the developments of pilot manufacturing closely. Since we do not want to run production, we need benchmarks to test how our processes are doing. Not only for the production of PICs, but also for packaging. JePPIX and PIXAPP pilot manufacturing activities will definitely be a useful tool for PICadvanced in the development of different lines of products. Here, we go for open access, because we expect, at least initially, a different price point and also more flexibility compared to integrated device or contract manufacturers.”
“Using an open access model for manufacturing like that of JePPIX is like putting your baby into someone else’s hands. You’ll have to find the right partners and you’ll have to trust them. Having an established organization like JePPIX supporting these pilot initiatives allows us to work through them with minimal risk. Europe also has the right brain ecosystem, so to speak, for photonic integration technology. We have the right people that are very well known in the scientific world and in industry that lead these initiatives and make sure the specifications are known and met. I am convinced that Europe is still the right place to develop such partnership environments in the field of photonic integration.”
The future of photonic integration
“We’re working to launch our new product generation within the next five years. Such lines of products with extra functionalities and complex structures will help operators set up even better networks. For the future, we are very interested in the development of the O-band platform. Having that available through JePPIX will be a great benefit for PICadvanced and for telecommunications in general. It will allow us to make even faster connections, moving towards 100 and even 400 gigabit per second. So, there is definitely a business case for us and for photonic integration there.” JePPIX partner Fraunhofer HHI is working on the development of the O-band platform.
“For people who want to start working with PICs in their products, I would say ‘go ahead!’ Choose the right platform and try to diversify if you can, so that you can compare and understand where the gains are. It is definitely a very interesting market that is getting more and more attention. We mainly cover telecommunications, but we’re also doing some side projects on health applications. Simple things that can make big differences in people’s lives.”
“I believe there will be a time in the near future where photonic integration will be ubiquitous, and people will have to think hard to remember how it was before photonic integration was widespread, similar to electronics. I really urge the more traditional part of the industry to explore this part of development with PICs. Use the tools that are available. And JePPIX is one of them. It offers a way to quickly develop prototypes and soon pilot production at a competitive price.”