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Luxtera Lights Up Sun

Ambitious Luxtera Inc., a startup developing photonics in silicon, is getting a big publicity boost from a Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) win being announced today. But Luxtera continues to snub the telecom world, saying its time is better spent on applying optical interfaces to computing.

The company is working on 40-Gbit/s interfaces -- four lanes of 10-Gbit/s apiece -- for Sun and will demonstrate some of its technology at this week's SC|05 supercomputing show in Seattle.

You might recall Luxtera as the startup claiming to outdo (Nasdaq: INTC) and others in the silicon photonics game. While Intel is pursuing a silicon laser, Luxtera is skipping that piece, instead targeting the other optical parts such as modulators and transimpedance amplifiers. (See Luxtera Chases Silicon Photonics.)

The goal in all this is to build optics using complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) methods -- that is, to make them from the same stuff as commonplace chips, rather than from materials such as indium phosphide (InP). Such a step could lower the cost of photonics dramatically, as well as increase manufacturing yields.

Moreover, CMOS carries the promise of integration, further shrinking the size and power requirements of optics. Systems vendor Infinera Inc. has shown some extensive photonic integration in InP. But to do it in CMOS could open a greater spectrum of commercial possibilities. (See Infinera Declares WDM War.)

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