TSMC is working with Broadcom and Nvidia to develop silicon photonics and co-packaged optics (CPO), after the  AI craze has lifted demand for data transmission, local media outlet Economic Daily News exclusively reported on Monday. The company has already formed an R&D team of over 200 employees to target emerging opportunities in high-speed computing chips based on silicon photonics technology, with production expected to start as early as the second half of next year. TSMC declined to comment on this matter.

Why it matters: The semiconductor industry has been under pressure to achieve faster data transmission speeds with zero signal delay, as AI applications flood most tech fields. This means that the traditional method of using electricity as a signal transmission medium is no longer sufficient. The cutting edge technology of silicon photonics works by converting electricity into light, significantly improving data transmission speeds.

Details: TSMC asserts that silicon photonics represents a new era for semiconductors. Douglas Yu, vice president of TSMC, stated that two key problems, energy efficiency and AI computing power, can be solved if TSMC succeeds in developing an applicable silicon photonics integration system in the upcoming years.

  • SEMICON Taiwan 2023 held its grand exhibition in Taipei from September 6 to September 8, with TSMC and Advanced Semiconductor Engineering (ASE) addressing topics related to silicon photonics. Intel, Nvidia, Broadcom, and other leading semiconductor companies have all successively launched development programs for silicon photonics and co-packaged optical components, according to Economic Daily News. The overall market is projected to grow from as soon as 2024.
  • TSMC is partnering with Broadcom, Nvidia, and other major customers to develop new products related to silicon photons and co-packaged optical components, citing sources familiar with the matter. These will include chip processes from45 nm to 7 nm, and are expected to enter mass production in 2025.
  • TSMC has assembled a team of 200 R&D employees to target silicon photonics, aiming to introduce the new technology into CPU, GPU, and other computing processes in the future. Due to faster transmission speeds enabled by light, the computing power of these new products will be several times greater than existing computing processors. 
  • With rapid advancements in transmission speeds, managing power loss and heat dissipation become the next big issues. A solution proposed by the semiconductor industry involves integrating silicon photonics components and application-specific integrated circuits (ASIC) into a single module through co-packaged optics (CPO) technology, a method both Microsoft and Meta have adopted in their new-generation network architecture.

Context:Silicon photonics is the study and application of photonic systems, which use silicon as an optical medium. Silicon photonics technology was introduced by Intel in 2010, with the challenge being the conversion from traditional electricity. Due to its relatively high cost, it is currently limited to data centers and server markets.

Jessie Wu is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. She covers consumer electronics, semiconductor, and the gaming industry for TechNode. Connect with her via e-mail: jessie.wu@technode.com.