15 October 2018 Graphene shows unique potential to meet bandwidth demands of next-generation communications

Credit: Lauren V. Robinson / © Springer Nature Ltd

Graphene Flagship partners, including ICFO, explore the unique potential of graphene for the future bandwidth demands of 5G, the IoT and industry 4.0. Integrated graphene-based photonic devices are becoming a promising solution for the next generation of optical communications. Graphene’s properties have enabled ultra-wide bandwidth communications coupled with low power consumption, radically changing the way data is transmitted across optical communications systems. Such breakthrough makes graphene-integrated devices a key ingredient in the evolution of 5G, the Internet-of-Things (IoT), and Industry 4.0. The findings were published in Nature Reviews Materials and highlighted on the cover.

It is clear that data transmission needs to seek for new frontier because “as conventional semiconductor technologies are approaching their physical limitations we need to explore entirely new technologies to realise our most ambitious visions of a future networked global society,” explains Wolfgang Templ, Department Head of Transceiver Research at Nokia Bell Labs in Germany, which is a Graphene Flagship partner. Paola Galli, Nokia IP and Optical networks Member of Technical Staff, agrees: “Graphene photonics offers a combination of advantages to become the game changer. We need to explore new materials to go beyond the limits of current technologies and meet the capacity needs of future networks”.

Antonio D’Errico from Ericsson Research explains, “graphene for photonics has the potential to change the perspective of information and communications technology in a disruptive way. This paper explains how to enable new feature rich optical networks. I am pleased to say that this fundamental information is now available to anyone interested around the globe”. The Graphene Flagship, one of the biggest research initiatives of the European Commission, presents a vision for the future of graphene-based integrated photonics, and provides strategies for improving power consumption, manufacturability and wafer-scale integration. This review, which has been recently published in Nature Review Materials, offers a roadmap that shows how graphene-based photonics devices can surpass the technological requirements needed for the evolution of datacom and telecom markets driven by 5G, IoT, and the Industry 4.0. “Graphene integrated in a photonic circuit is a low cost, scalable technology that can operate fibre links at a very high data rates,” said Marco Romagnoli, from the National Interuniversity Consortium for Telecommunications (CNIT) in Italy.

The review focuses on the ultimate vision for the future of graphene photonic integration. Researchers from the partnering entities in the Graphene Flagship CNIT, Ericsson, IMEC, Nokia, Nokia-Bell Labs, AMO, ICFO and the University of Cambridge are behind the review. “Collaboration between industry and academia is key for explorative work towards entirely new component technology. Research in this phase bears significant risks so it is important that academic research and industry research labs join the brightest minds to solve the fundamental problems. Industry can give perspective on the relevant research questions for potential in future systems,” adds Templ of Nokia Bell Labs. “Thanks to a mutual exchange of information we can then mature the technology and consider all the requirements for a future industrialization and mass production of graphene-based components.”

As ICREA Prof. at ICFO Frank Koppens underlines, “with graphene, we can make 5G technologies faster, more compact and cheaper. So far, no technology can do all of those things at the same time. This publication reflects clearly a close collaboration between academia and industry. The graphene flagship fosters joint co-development projects targeting well-defined applications that solve major problems of the largest industrial players in the markets of data and telecommunications”. Seconding this, Kari Hjelt, Head of Innovation for the Graphene Flagship also states, “this case exemplifies the power of graphene technologies to transform cutting edge applications in telecommunications. We already start to see the fruits of the Graphene Flagship investments when moving from materials development towards components and system level integration”.

Graphene photonics offers advantages in both performance and manufacturing over the state of the art. Graphene can ensure modulation, detection and switching performances meeting all the requirements for the next evolution in photonic device manufacturing. “We aim for highly integrated optical transceivers which will enable ultra-high bitrates well beyond one terabit per second per optical channel. These targeted systems will differentiate from their semiconductor-based forerunners by substantially lower complexity, energy dissipation and form factor going along with a higher flexibility and tunability,” explains Templ.

“This paper makes a clear case of why an integrated approach of graphene and silicon-based photonics can meet and surpass the foreseeable requirements of the ever-increasing data rates in future telecom systems,” says Andrea C. Ferrari, professor at the University of Cambridge, Science and Technology Officer of the Graphene Flagship and Chair of its Management Panel. “The advent of the Internet of Things and the 5G era represent unique opportunities for graphene to demonstrate its ultimate potential,” he concludes.