CW-WDM MSA Progress Report: A Quick Look at Our Journey So Far and Early Adopters

Sep 26, 2023 | Blog


Matt Sysak

VP laser engineering, Ayar Labs

The recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) models have been exciting for business leaders and the public. Behind the scenes, however, companies and organizations working on advanced applications like AI and high performance computing (HPC) face a race against time. They need to meet the rapidly increasing bandwidth demands driven by these innovations.

When it comes to driving standards for advanced integrated optics, the collaboration among Continuous-Wave Wavelength Division Multiplexing Multi-Source Agreement (CW-WDM MSA) members is already paying dividends. Their work is informing next-generation offerings that will support continued progress in AI, HPC, and high-density optics. Before exploring where we are headed, it’s worth looking back at how we got here.

Defining new laser standards for advanced integrated optics

The 100G, four-wavelength optical interface paradigm has dominated data centers for many years. However, rapidly growing AI models and increasingly complex neural networks are driving the need for significantly more bandwidth. A group of industry leaders in silicon photonics formed the CW-WDM MSA in 2020 to solve the bandwidth challenges presented by next-generation applications. Building on existing standards of the ITU-T and IEEE, the group is laying a foundation for 8, 16, and 32 wavelength count O-band interfaces.

Since laser development is typically the most challenging aspect of creating new optical interfaces, the CW-WDM MSA has focused on defining a laser grid and key specifications around laser sources. Unlike some standards, we have not defined the full communication link because we wanted to give adopters the flexibility to support a variety of use cases. The approach enables developers to fully optimize links without interoperability constraints while creating a significant business opportunity for optical source suppliers.

In June 2021, we released CW-WDM MSA Technical Specifications Rev 1.0, which multiple suppliers quickly adopted. When it comes to adopting the standard, arguably the most promising area application is high bandwidth optical interconnects.  In that space, the ability to move lots of data at low power and low latency across multiple channels really matters.  Traditional ethernet optics simply do not provide enough optical carriers for these applications, with state-of-the-art ethernet standards focusing mainly on 4 wavelength solutions.

First-generation products using the MSA standards will immediately double capacity by using eight wavelengths, with 16- and 32-wavelength options to follow. And once the technology is established, the industry could see up to 128 channel counts specified.

From standards to products: A look at early adopters

As of early 2023, supply chain aggregators are already adopting the MSA external laser source (ELS) standard for their products, and aggregators are beginning to put them into end products.

Ayar Labs has developed the SuperNova™ light source – the first optical source designed to comply with the CW-WDM MSA specification, providing up to 16 wavelengths of light and powering up to 16 ports.

Lumentum has announced a strategic collaboration with Ayar Labs to deliver high-volume CW-WDM MSA-compliant external laser sources to power Ayar Lab’s optical I/O solution.

MACOM has developed Laser Arrays for Chip-to-Chip Communications, an 8-channel laser array capability that is compliant with the CW-WDM MSA standards.

Sivers Semiconductors has developed an 8λ O-band CW DFB Laser Chipset designed for CW use in CW-WDM MSA-compliant applications.

Quantifi Photonics has announced the Laser 1300 Series, a compact and scalable CW-WDM MSA-compliant laser test source. The Laser 1300 Series enables the characterization of photonic integrated circuits for emerging applications and provides a scalable, reproducible light source for mass production testing.

Learn more at ECOC 2023

The CW-WDM MSA is supported and relied on by a host of experts in the optical space that offer world-class technology. If you’re interested in learning more about the technology they are developing, you can visit the booths of several CW-WDM MSA members at ECOC 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland, Europe’s leading conference on optical communications, October 2-4.