Graphene may exceed bandwidth demands of future telecommunications

Researchers from the Cambridge Graphene Centre, together with industrial and academic collaborators within the European Graphene Flagship project, showed that integrated graphene-based photonic devices offer a solution for the next generation of optical communications.

The researchers have demonstrated how properties of graphene - a two-dimensional form of carbon - enable ultra-wide bandwidth communications and low power consumption to radically change the way data is transmitted across the optical communications systems.

This could make graphene-integrated devices the key ingredient in the evolution of 5G, the Internet-of-Things (IoT), and Industry 4.0. The findings are published in Nature Reviews Materials .

As conventional semiconductor technologies approach their physical limitations, researchers need to explore new technologies to realise the most ambitious visions of a future networked global society. Graphene promises a significant step forward in performance for the key components of telecommunications and data communications.

In their new paper, the researchers have presented a vision for the future of graphene-based integrated photonics, and provided strategies for improving power consumption, manufacturability and wafer-scale integration. With this new publication, the Graphene Flagship partners also provide a roadmap for graphene-based photonics devices surpassing the technological requirement 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 study lead author Marco Romagnoli from CNIT, the National Interuniversity Consortium for Telecommunications in Italy.

Graphene photonics offers advantages both in 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.

Co-author Antonio D’Errico, from Ericsson Research, says that "graphene for photonics has the potential to change the perspective of Information and Communications Technology in a disruptive way. Our publication explains why, and how to enable new feature rich optical networks."

This industrial and academic partnership, comprising researchers in the Cambridge Graphene Centre, CNIT, Ericsson, Nokia, IMEC, AMO, and ICFO produced the vision for the future of graphene photonic integration.

"Collaboration between industry and academia is key for explorative work towards entirely new component technology," said co-author Wolfgang Templ of Nokia Bell Labs. "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. 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."

"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," said Professor Andrea Ferrari, Director of the Cambridge Graphene Centre. "The advent of the Internet of Things, Industry 4.0 and the 5G era represent unique opportunities for graphene to demonstrate its ultimate potential."

Marco Romagnoli et al. ’Graphene-based integrated photonics for next-generation datacom and telecom.’ Nature Reviews Materials (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41578-018-0040-9 .