Artistieke weergave van de TOADM © Polimi

This week, the Polytechnic University of Milan (Italy) presented what is believed to be the world’s first multiplexer whereby it is possible to create a purely optical selection and routing of signals to network nodes on a silicon chip measuring just 2 square millimeters. The multiplexer in question, a device that directs different data streams over a common communication line, belongs to the TOADM (Tunable Optical Add Drop Multiplexer) category.

Optical chip

This will enable the proliferation of high-bandwidth optical networks in the new 5G/6G communication systems. The ‘invention’ was made by researchers at the Photonic Devices Lab, part of the Polytechnic University of Milan (sometimes shortened to Polimi). The European SuperPixels project provided financial support. Results were published in Nature Communications

More complex optical circuits

Photonics, the science of generating, detecting and manipulating light particles, underpins many of the technologies in everyday life. In the evolving branch of integrated photonics, increasingly larger and more complex optical circuits can be built on the surface of a chip. Most of these circuits are currently designed for specific applications in telecommunications, detection, and other fields. However, photonic technology is finding applications in more and more areas. Consequently, there is a need for general purpose optical circuits that can be directly programmed by the end user.

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    Low power consumption

    The Milanese TOADM can be reconfigured in a millionth of a second. This enables the dynamic classification of hundreds of broadband optical signals (200 Gbit/s and above) across a frequency range of more than 10,000 GHz.

    “It is extremely complex to perform these functions in a broadband communication system without disrupting other signals and simultaneously guaranteeing high volumes, low production costs and low energy consumption,” Francesco Morichetti and Andrea Melloni of the Politecnico di Milano stated in a press release.

    Also read: Eindhoven researchers present revolutionary light-emitting silicon: big step forward in production of photonic chips.

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    About the author

    Author profile picture Ewout Kieckens is a Dutch journalist in Rome who writes about Italian lifestyle and culture. He has written books on diverse subjects such as the Vatican and Italian design. He is very interested in innovations, especially Italian contributions to progress.