IEEE Buenaventura ComSoc Chapter Talk: Perspective of Pluggables vs. CPO For New Optics in Next 5-10 Years

By Victor Lin - IEEE Buenaventura ComSoc Chapter Chair, USA

In December 2022, Dr. Frank Chang, senior member of IEEE and OSA Fellow, presented a talk at the Hub 101 (an Cal Lutheran University incubator) in Ventura County, Southern California on pluggable optics vs. co-packaged optics (CPO) for high-speed optical communications. Dr. Chang is Source Photonics’ Chief Engineer and CTO for advanced and next-generation transceiver design.

The optics Communication industry is at a crossroad once again driven by the post pandemic huge BW demand for lower cost/power Ethernet optics from hyperscale data centers for networking and AL/ML applications. While in telecom space, the industry is pushing higher bandwidth requirements for high performance fronthaul, midhaul and backhaul optics. Several optical transceiver products are now targeted specifically for this high-volume market driven by 5G/6G deployments.

One key question to address is what technologies can provide the optimum solutions to solve the problem of massive bandwidth scaling for cloud, AI/ML and HPC applications? Dr. Chang’s talk examined this new optics landscape for datacom and telecom space. He first described the fundamental architectural difference between pluggable optics and CPO. He then discussed how data center operators view the future path of photonics integration with switch electronics and their preferred technology choices and timelines.

Major data center operators are investing in CPO, which promises to transform today’s pluggable optics industry with regards to cost and performance. This talk highlights some of technical challenges to be resolved before CPO technology can be fully embraced.  It also discusses the synergies and differences between today’s mobile transport and future optical 6G networks.

This is the first hybrid technical talk hosted by IEEE BV COMSOC since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. COMSOC chapters from Seattle, Texas, Atlanta, Florida and Texas co-hosted the hybrid event. The advantage of the hybrid format is that members from the local COMSOC chapter can enjoy face-to-face networking while members from other COMSOC chapters are able to participate virtually to gain timely technical knowledge from experts around the world. Several students from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles joined the virtual session and appreciated how the concepts they are learning in their electronics class are directly applicable to the fast-growing datacom and telecom industry.

The debate on pluggable vs co-packaged optics (CPO) will likely continue to be a hot topic in the next few years and Dr. Chang’s talk provided a good perspective on some of the issues behind the debate, eliciting many interesting discussions with the attendees. The photo below was taken after the talk of Dr. Lin, the IEEE BV ComSoc Chapter Chair, presenting a certificate of appreciation to Dr. Chang.