Photonics – Accelerating the Brainport lead

On September 23rd, High Tech Campus Eindhoven was the host to over 100 leading photonics integration specialists from 12 countries. They met to take stock of the story so-far and discuss the next expansion phases for an industry that’s becoming the backbone technology of today’s Internet. Light has replaced copper as data centres ramp up to cope with bandwidth demands when global sales exceed 1 billion smartphones a year.

Today, ICT is responsible for about 4% of the world energy consumption. Recent studies indicate a rise to 8% by 2025. The steadily rising cost of energy and the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions raises important questions. What role can ICT play in general, and optical technologies in particular?

Michael Lebby (CEO of Ottawa-based OneChip Photonics and professor and chair of optoelectronics at Glyndwr University, Wales) was one of the keynote speakers at this first Integrated Photonics conference in Eindhoven. Michael has always been very optimistic that integrated photonics will scale up, creating business opportunities for many companies.

"One analogy is to think of the photonics guys as the "plumbers" of the communications industry. Their clients and users in the data-centre sector don’t want to pay much for the piping that connects things together or the water that flows through. Whoever gets there first and scales efficiently will get access to a huge bucketful of business. There won’t be much profit margin. But there will be enormous volume." remarks Lebby.

He continues: "As someone who is active on both sides of the Atlantic, it is clear that the investments in integrated photonics are starting to show results. If you look at where the investment has been made in the last 15-20 years, the answer is mostly Europe and little bit in Japan. The Brainport Eindhoven region has certainly been a driving force in bringing teams and initiatives together for integrated photonics, both locally and across the continent."

"But to really scale up this industry, you need tens of billions of dollars. So, Europe can still maintain its leadership role. The open question is whether Europe can get the IBM’s, Cisco’s and Intel’s of this world to put in the billions. I think it is a challenge worth accepting. Europe has taught itself to collaborate efficiently, it has direction, a clear set of goals and lots of small innovative companies. I think some US high-tech startups and SME’s busy with breakthrough technologies may benefit by looking to collaborate with partners in Europe, using its open source model.
By creating an end-to-end ecosystem with designers, fabs and packing companies working together in the same region you create a "one-stop shop" for those building novel applications. It’s an ecosystem which is difficult to copy, leading to a brain-gain rather than a brain-drain." He ends his speech.

Source: Jonathan Marks

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