Lumped silicon photonic Mach-Zehnder modulators for high-speed optical interconnects

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Murray, Brian
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University College Cork
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The boom in worldwide internet connectivity and cloud services has caused unprecedented need for high-bandwidth connections between and within data centres. Silicon photonics is becoming the platform of choice to provide low-cost, large-volume production of future optical transceivers. However, the scale of modern data centres introduces challenges of speed, reach and, crucially, energy consumption for these devices. Silicon photonic Mach-Zehnder modulators (MZMs) are one possibility for providing electrical-to-optical conversion at the transmit side of such fibre-optic links. In this thesis, comprehensive investigation is carried out into lumped MZMs, specifically, as their unterminated, capacitive load holds promise for lower power consumption than more typical travelling-wave MZMs with resistive terminations. Detailed characterisations and simulations of dual-drive silicon photonic lumped MZMs are made to investigate the key trade-off of modulation bandwidth and drive voltage. Drivers with low source impedance are investigated as a means of boosting lumped MZM bandwidths, while advanced modulation formats such as four-level pulse-amplitude modulation (PAM4) and electrical duobinary modulation (EDB) are also leveraged to provide more spectrally-efficient signals. In particular, experimental demonstration is made of a novel low-impedance, switched-capacitor PAM4 driver for a lumped MZM in a 30 Gb/s silicon photonic link over 10 km of optical fibre. Simulations are carried out to optimise the bias and doping levels of lumped MZMs used with such drivers. Predistortion methods are investigated through experiments and simulations as alternative ways to increase the bandwidth. A simple first-order FIR filter is shown experimentally to enable 25 Gb/s NRZ modulation with a low-bandwidth MZM, while more optimised precompensation enables 50 Gb/s PAM4 and EDB. Finally, simulations using an accurate equivalent circuit model for the lumped MZM demonstrate the potential for a well-designed driver with lowered source impedance and controlled amounts of inductive peaking to reduce the need for transmitter-side precompensation.
Silicon photonics , Lumped Mach-Zehnder modulator , Predistortion
Murray, B. 2022. Lumped silicon photonic Mach-Zehnder modulators for high-speed optical interconnects. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.