MIRAGE: MultI-coRe, multi-level, WDM-enAbled embedded optical enGine for TErabit board-to-board and rack-to-rack parallel optics

[October 2012 – May 2016]

Project Overview


PCRL coordinated MIRAGE which was a European project on photonic integration, aiming to implement cost-optimized components for high-speed optical interconnects. In order to raise the bar of interconnect speed and avoid a capacity crunch in the data centre, MIRAGE introduced new concepts providing new degrees of multiplexing. Within the project a manifold of new developments and disciplines were leveraged effectively:

  • data transmission in single-mode, multi-core fibre
  • introduction of multi-level modulation schemes for capacity upgrade
  • introduction of wavelength multiplexing in Active Optical Cables
  • introduction of space division multiplexing in multi-core fibers

To introduce these new concepts in the datacom sector in a cost-effective and commercially viable manner, MIRAGE reassessed the existing technological baseline to develop a flexible and upgradeable “optical engine” capable of different configurations in order to adapt the application requirements. The MIRAGE optical engine blends the most prominent optical interconnect technologies (VCSELs, silicon photonics) with concepts new to the datacom sector (multi-core fiber, wavelength multiplexing) using state-of-the-art 2.5 and 3D integration.

Achievement of the project’s technological objectives has led to a significant number of scientific publications in top-tier journals and conferences. The technical competencies developed in MIRAGE have opened up extensive exploitation opportunities to the project partners, enhancing their competitiveness in the multi-billion market of optical interconnects and creating new employment opportunities in Europe.


Summary of project context and objectives


MIRAGE was a collaborative project on photonic integration that brought together eight leading European universities, research centers and companies. The project was launched in October 2012 and was co-funded by the European Commission through the Seventh Framework Programme (FP 7).

MIRAGE aimed to raise the bar in the speed of optical links that are used for interconnecting servers and switches in datacenter networks (optical interconnects). Being the repositories of online content, datacenters are now becoming the “hot spots” of the internet and traffic demand follows double-digit growth, reaching 25% CAGR. With current scaling curves of networking equipment lagging behind this tremendous growth, content providers face up to the challenge of a capacity crunch in the datacenter, failing to deliver data efficiently to the end user.

In order to change the scaling trajectory of optical interconnects, MIRAGE has introduced new multiplexing concepts that provide new dimensions of parallelization in optical interconnects. As a result, in addition to scaling of line rate, MIRAGE leverages the use of more efficient modulation formats capable of pushing through more data with the same bandwidth, as well as wavelength division multiplexing (WDM) and space division multiplexing (SDM) in multicore fibers, enhancing bandwidth density and saving component costs.

MIRAGE developed a flexible “optical engine” that pushes the envelope in all the dimensions used for scaling overall capacity (line rate, efficient modulation, WDM, SDM). The MIRAGE optical engine relies on the most prominent AOC technologies (VCSELs, silicon photonics) combined with state-of-the-art assembly methodologies to reduce the overall BOM and develop value-added components.

The project core technological objectives were:

  • develop 3D photonic-electronic silicon platform
  • fabricate WDM VCSEL arrays for 40 Gb/s modulation and flip-chip assembly
  • develop high-speed linear electronic components (VCSEL drivers, TIAs)
  • develop advanced methodology for industry-compatible assembly & packaging on a 2.5D/3D integration platform combining silicon photonics and electronics
  • develop low cost techniques for multicore-fiber coupling
  • fabricate application-specific components using the developed 2.5D/3D optical engine
  • evaluate components in application scenarios

To provide a vehicle for demonstration and evaluation of the developed technology, MIRAGE aimed at three types of prototypes:

  • PCB-based, providing a direct evolution path from current commercial products
  • 5D Silicon Electrical Carrier based
  • 3D Silicon Electro-Optical Carrier based


Main Scientific and technical (S&T) results and foregrounds


The technical work in MIRAGE was organised in 6 work-packages (WPs), for efficient coordination and tracking of the parallel activities towards the project objectives. A dedicated WP for project coordination and management ensured coherence of the work and liaison with the EC. Interaction among the WPs is shown in Figure 1.

The main results per WP are summarized below:

WP2: System design and methodology for integration and packaging processes

Activities in WP2 aim at the exchange of technical information among partners, at defining the system-level specifications of MIRAGE components, at identifying the critical interfaces between individual building blocks and confirming their compatibility, at generating the device models for system-level simulations of MIRAGE systems and at defining the methodology of the integration and packaging procedures. Design activities in WP2 received input from the rest of the WPs in order to refine the specifications of the MIRAGE components in subsequent design cycles.

During the course of the project, WP2 has offered a forum for defining the system specifications of MIRAGE components, devices and systems, for aligning the specifications of MIRAGE components and ensure their compatibility, for defining the integration methodologies taking into account the specific characteristics of the different integration platforms, and for performing simulation studies regarding the system performance of MIRAGE devices and systems. WP2 has also taken care of a smooth transition of all these activities into WP5 at the final stages of the project.


WP3: Optical passives for Multi-lane to multi-core fiber interfaces

WP3 concerns the design of value-added passive components and involves silicon nanophotonic boards as well as laser inscribed glass interposers.

Silicon photonic boards

Designs were generated for vertical grating couplers, polarization-insensitive wavelength demultiplexers and in-plane couplers.

Vertical grating couplers

Grating couplers (GCs) for perfectly vertical coupling schemes facilitating the hybrid integration of single polarization and directly modulated VCSELs-to-SOI substrates have been thoroughly studied and characterized over the course of the project. In order to meet the requirements of rapid prototyping, we have designed solely fully etched GC based on 340 nm thick SOI substrates targeting high coupling efficiency and high immunity to optical back reflections at telecom wavelengths.

Initially, uniform and chirped GC versions for TM polarization have been designed and tested yielding a coupling loss of 7.5 dB and 6.5 dB at 1560nm, respectively. By chirping the period length of the very first scattering units of the GC, second order back reflection was reduced improving the coupling efficiency to the waveguide by 1 dB compared to uniform GC version. In addition, minimum back reflection to the fiber was measured as low as -17 dB. Figure 2 (a) shows a schematic illustration of the fully etched GC while experimental results for the transmitted power to waveguide and the back reflection to the fiber are depicted in Figure 2 (b).

In the second design phase of TM based GCs, a particle-swarm-optimization (PSO) algorithm was employed to break GC’s symmetry in order to minimize the second order back reflection to the waveguide. Simulations predicted a coupling loss of 4.5 dB at 1550 nm with a 1 dB BW of 47 nm and a minimum waveguide back-reflection of -20 dB. During the optimization process the minimum feature size of the apodized GC was restricted to 80-100nm. A schematic view of the apodized GC and simulations results are shown in Figure 3 (a) and (b), respectively. Figure 3 (c) illustrates a cross-sectional SEM image of the fabricated GC. The experimental results for the coupling loss and the measured back reflection to the fiber are shown in Figure 3 (d).

The apodized GC version has been studied and modelled including also the dielectrics employed by the 0.35 cm CMOS Back-End-Of-Line process flow of AMS. Leveraging the presence of the SiN at BEOL process for passivation purposes, we proposed the formation of a simple Anti-Relfection (AR) coating based on SiO2/SiN layers optimizing the GC performance. Unlike other demonstrations where multiple SiO2/SiN have been considered between each metal layer along the BEOL stack, we restricted our designs to the passivation section that lies above the last metal layer keeping the process flow almost unmodified. The feasibly of this concept has been confirmed through numerical simulations.

Figure 4 (a) illustrates the apodized GC and the proposed AR coating on top of the standardized AMS BEOL stack. Simulations have shown a peak coupling loss of 3.5 dB at 1550nm with a minimum back reflection to the VCSEL of -13 dB (see Figure 4(b)).

During the third year of the project, we have designed bi-directional grating couplers for perfectly vertical coupling based on sub-wavelength refractive index engineering compatible with DUV lithography tools (193nm DUV). Bi-directional GCs constitute an attractive approach towards hybrid integration of VCSEL-on-SOI as they offer enhanced alignment tolerance compared to the unidirectional counterparts. Simulation results dictated a coupling efficiency of -0.87 dB at 1548 nm and an ultra-low direct back-reflection of -27.4 dB at 1549 nm for the TE Sub-Wavelength-GC (SWGC). The TM SWGC exhibited a coupling efficiency of -1.47 dB at 1560 nm with a minimum direct back-reflection of -14.2 dB at 1559 nm. For both the TE and TM SWGC the feature sizes are larger than 100 nm complying with the design rules imposed by the DUV lithography. Figure 5 (a) depicts a conceptual schematic of the envisioned 3D integration of a single polarization VCSEL on top of the SWGC. A visual impression of the power coupled to the silicon waveguides through the SWGC is illustrated in Figure 5(b). Simulation results for the TE and TM SWGCs are summarized in Figure 5(c).

Polarization-insensitive wavelength demultiplexers

Polarization drifts during fiber transmission result in a random state-of-polarization entering the MIRAGE receiver. To avoid the complexity and real estate of a polarization-diversity receiver, MIRAGE leveraged the low PDL of its SOI platform (employing 340 nm top silicon thickness) to design polarization-insensitive wavelength demultiplexers. The devices were based on a DI structure, equipped with heater tuning sections for compensating potential wavelength uncertainties induced by fabrication tolerances at the VCSEL or SOI processes. To account for the polarization dependent frequency shift (PDFS) of the SOI platform that varies considerably with the fabrication tolerances, overall birefringence was engineered and an additional tuning section was included in the DEMUX design to further control it.

A schematic of the polarization-insensitive wavelength demultiplexer (DEMUX) in shown in Figure 6. The design is based on the utilization of two waveguide segments inside the MZI branch that differ in terms of width. A 3D impression of the design is depicted in Figure 6.

As shown in the figure, both arms comprise two different segments each one equipped with an individual heating electrode. The width difference between the two segments is properly chosen so as to realize a “pseudo” dispersion compensation scheme inside the arms of the DEMUX design. Estimation of the group indices for TE and TM modes reveals that their relation is strongly dependent on the waveguide width. As a result, with careful design of the waveguide width, it is possible to achieve equal overall group index between TE and TM polarization.

The transfer function of the MIRAGE polarization-insensitive wavelength demultiplexer is shown in Figure 7(a) below. The figure reveals that 7 nm FSR is achieved for both TE and TM polarization verifying the feasibility of the proposed two-segment concept. Furthermore, Figure 7(b) demonstrates that individual tuning of the TE and the TM transfer functions is possible by operating the heating elements of either the first or the second branch segment. The solid lines correspond to a spectral mismatch lying in the range of 0.3 nm with the heaters being at the OFF state while, by turning on the heating electrodes this difference can be reduced to zero (dotted line).

In-plane couplers

Low-loss, polarization-insensitive in-plane couplers were targeted in MIRAGE for the efficient interfacing of the developed silicon nanophotonic components with elements featuring a larger MFD, such as optical fibers and glass waveguides. Throughout the project, four design phases were carried out.

Phase 1 concerned the design and optimization of the simple mode converter based on the well-known configuration that includes a tapered silicon waveguide (with adiabatically reduced width) cladded in a polymer waveguide with larger dimensions.

Phase 2 aimed to increase the overall fiber-to-chip coupling efficiency and followed a co-design methodology, taking into consideration all the optical components involved in this coupling scenario i.e. glass fan-out and SU8 Spot-Size Converter (SSC) and optimizing the overall design conforming to the technological limitations associated with both components. To achieve gradual and smooth power conversion, avoiding coupling to higher order modes, the linear taper profile was replaced by a design that follows an exponential increase of the taper width, revealing significant enhancement of the conversion efficiency particularly for the TM polarization (see Figure 8).

Phase 3 introduced a slightly modified approach employing an oxide overcladding on top of the strip silicon waveguides. The overcladding enables the straightforward deposition of a metallization layer on top of the photonic circuitry in order to realize thermo-optic or electro-optic control of the integrated devices. To retain the conversion efficiency of the SSC despite the increased distance between the silicon and polymer waveguides, a thin SiN film was placed between the SU8 polymer and the oxide cladding, so as to improve the overlap between the fundamental modes and enhance the coupling strength of the converter. An exhaustive study of the SSC design parameters resulted in a 5-segment taper profile with a 1D polymer taper, as shown in Figure 9. Overall glass-to-silicon coupling losses are less than 1 dB for both the TE and TM modes. The spectral behavior of the SSC was also simulated and conversion efficiencies well beyond 90% for both TE and TM polarization were estimated.

Phase 4 focused on developing an efficient SSC design without the SiN layer, given that the SiN film complicated the fabrication process flow in MIRAGE. A novel SSC design was generated to tackle the fabrication and process limitations in the project. The scheme involves a 2 degrees angled 3D glass waveguide assembled on a SiPh platform, whereas efficient mode conversion is realized via the simultaneous and reverse tapering of the two waveguide cores that increases the coupling performance and reduces the coupling length. Furthermore, the concept alleviates the edge chip scattering losses (a daunting issue of the flip-chip adiabatic couplers) thanks to the angled approach. Figure 10 depicts the proposed coupling scheme. The 3D glass waveguide exhibits a mode diameter of about 7um and it relies on the 3D waveguide inscription technology developed by Optoscribe.

The resulting taper shape is shown in Figure 11 (a) revealing a rather slow slope from 170 nm to 240 nm and fast transitions before and after that. The minimum silicon width was 150 nm so as to enable standard photolithography and avoid e-beam.

The overall TE glass-to-silicon coupling efficiency was found to be 98% while the coupling length was as low as 120um. A sideview impression of the TE propagating field is shown in Figure 11(b). The effect of the lateral assembly misalignments on the coupling efficiency was also briefly investigated using the EME solver. The results shown in Figure 11 (c) and (d) indicate adequate tolerance to lateral misalignments both along the y- and the x-axis, enabling the use of low-cost passive alignment assembly equipment.

Glass interposers

The MIRAGE optical engine includes glass-based interposer interfaces that are used in order to facilitate optical interfacing of the transmitter and receiver prototypes with multi-core fiber (MCF). These glass interfaces make use of 3D embedded waveguide circuits produced using ultrafast direct laser writing technology that has been developed by Optoscribe and allows efficient rerouting of the core geometries of the multi-core fiber to the linear array for direct butt coupling to the SOI platform.

Within MIRAGE, the following glass interposers have been developed:

  • 4-core MCF interposer, for interfacing the MIRAGE QSFP AOC with a 4-core MCF.
  • 7-core MCF interposer, for interfacing the MIRAGE CXP AOC with a twin 7-core MCF array. Six cores are used in each 7-core MCF so as to provide 12 lanes of communication.
  • 2×6 to 3×4 glass interposer, for interfacing the MIRAGE CXP AOC with three MIRAGE QSFP AOCs (breakout cable).

A schematic of the MIRAGE CXP, QSFP and breakout interface is shown below.

4-core MCF interposer

After detailed evaluation of commercially available 4-core fibers, the Fibercore SM-4C1500 was selected to be used in MIRAGE due to its consistency in terms of core spacing across the fiber. A 4-core glass interposer design was produced in order to match this fiber geometry. The waveguides were designed to mode-match to the multicore fibre, with an MFD of 10 μm, with a diameter of 8 μm. The laser inscription technique for waveguide fabrication used by Optoscribe produces waveguides with a square or rectangular cross section, in contrast to circular or asymmetric shapes commonly produced when using ultrafast laser writing. This property allows the waveguides to be treated and compared directly to conventional lithographically produced planar waveguide circuits.

The waveguide paths were designed and laid out in 3D using Optoscribe’s automated layout tools, allowing arbitrary placement of input and output coordinates of each waveguide. Figure 13 below shows a cross sectional microscope image taken in transmission mode of the 4 core interposer fabricated with 78 μm core-core spacing (left), as well as a stitched set of top down transmission microscope images showing the transition from a linear array at 127 μm pitch to a square arrangement with 36.25 μm pitch over a 10 mm length (right).

The insertion loss results for the MIRAGE 4-core MCF interposer were measured to <0.65 dB for all cores of the MCF.

7-core MCF interposer

The 7-core MCF interposer was designed according to the geometry of the Fibercore SM-7C1500 which was found to be superior both in quality and usability compared to other commercial high-port-count MCFs that were characterised. Figure 14 shows a schematic diagram of the layout alongside an image of a fabricated 7-channel fanout in a glass substrate.

At the next step, a dual 6-channel glass interposer design was produced in order to match to the geometry of the two Fibercore MCFs enclosed in the dual channel FVA. The central core of each 7-core MCF was not coupled to a waveguide, thus resulting in a 2×6 geometry matched to the 6 outer cores of the 7-core MCF. This 2D array of waveguides transitioned to a 1D linear array for coupling to the SOI waveguides. Figure 15 below shows a schematic representation of the device design. The fabricated waveguides have a mode field diameter of approximately 7 μm compared to the MCF mode field diameter of 8 μm.

A maximum insertion loss of 1.1 dB was observed for one channel with all other channels demonstrating losses of ≤ 1.0 dB.

2×6 to 3×4 glass interposer (breakout)

Interfacing the glass interposer with the MCFs requires the fibers to be housed in an FVA. This allows the MCFs to be held in a fixed geometry and securely bonded to the end facet of the interposer. Since there are multiple MCFs interfacing at the input and output of the interposer the fibers must be rotationally aligned within the FVA. This is a key design requirement of the multi-channel MCF FVAs as any rotational variation between the fibres will result in misalignment from the waveguides in the glass interposer. Ultrafast laser inscription can easily produce custom geometries to compensate for any rotational misalignment of the MCFs, however it is desirable to standardise the design of the interposer in order to prevent the need for a new design with every device.

Dual-channel FVAs with 7-core fibers as well as three-channel FVAs with 4-core fibers were characterized and a 12-channel interposer design was developed to match their geometry. The waveguide layout of the fiber-to-fiber break-out device was designed in 3D using Optoscribe’s automated layout tools, allowing arbitrary placement of input and output coordinates of each waveguide.

The interposer was measured to provide low loss coupling (≤ 2.3 dB per channel) from 3 × 4-core MCF to 2 × 7-core MCF (using only 12 channels) capable of interfacing between the MIRAGE CXP and QSFP modules. The cross-talk of the breakout interface was also measured for all channels and was found to be below -47.2 dB.

WP4: Development of optical and electrical active components

WP4 focused on the development of the active electronic and optoelectronic components used in the MIRAGE optical engine. These comprise single-mode, long-wavelength VCSELs as well as BiCMOS VCSEL drivers and TIAs.

Single-mode, long-wavelength VCSELs

Vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) are the transmitter of choice for short-reach applications due to their low cost, energy efficiency, and compact footprint. InP-based VCSEL emitting at long wavelengths (i.e. 1.3 and 1.55 μm) have gained large interest due to their intrinsic low power consumption (low band gap) and low losses in silicon waveguides and silica-based optical fibers which allows transmission distances of several kilometres, finding application in both datacom and telecom networks.

In the framework of MIRAGE, we have demonstrated an ultra-short cavity VCSEL (USCV) emitting at 1.55-μm and allowing:

  • maximum small-signal modulation bandwidth of 22 GHz at room temperature operation (uncooled). For comparison, wafer-fused 1.3-μm VCSELs shows a maximum bandwidth of ~10 GHz, while 1.55-μm VCSELs using high-contrast gratings reached ~8 GHz (2013). The bandwidth of the USCV presented in this work is 2 times higher than any other long-wavelength directly-modulated VCSEL. Thanks to this large bandwidth, TUM has generated a record-high 50 Gb/s non-return-to-zero (NRZ) signal without any equalization which is detected error free as shown in Figure 16 (b).
  • energy efficiency. The USCV achieved a bandwidth of 9 GHz for 1.4 mW DC power consumption, while the wafer-fused 1.3-μm VCSELs shows similar results for a DC power consumption larger than 28 mW. We have demonstrated a factor of 20 savings in energy consumption.
  • single-mode operation. To our knowledge, the USCV is the only published single-mode VCSEL with bandwidth of 22 GHz.
  • design of a VCSEL with a calculated small-signal bandwidth of 26 GHz. Combining the USCV design with a novel double-mesa structure and a highly strained active region as shown in Figure 16 (a), TUM has simulated an 20% bandwidth enhancement. These lasers will be fabricated in the near future.

Making the InP-based long-wavelength VCSEL technology competitive with the short-wavelength GaAs-based one is a big step towards the evolution of low-cost energy-efficient transceivers capable of interconnecting large datacom and telecom networks with the same SMF infrastructure and allowing, in the near future, terabit connectivity.

BiCMOS VCSEL drivers and TIAs

In the framework of MIRAGE, IMEC-INTEC has developed two key BiCMOS electronic components:

  • VCSEL drivers with on-chip retiming, NRZ to PAM-4 conversion, electronic equalization circuits and programmable bias/modulation current sources for the transmission of optical multi-level signals with common-anode VCSEL arrays.
  • Photodiode TIA arrays with linear post-amplifier, AGC and offset compensation to support the reception of optical multi-level signals.

The VCSEL driver channel architecture is shown in Figure 17(a). The driver features a 4-tap symbol-spaced feed-forward equalizer (FFE) with a selective falling-edge pre-emphasis (SFEP). Two single-ended binary data streams MSB and LSB are synchronized with each other through retiming flip-flops before they are combined at the output stage. Dimensioning the tap coefficients A0 to A3 in the MSB path twice as large as in the LSB path creates the multi-level current. This current can be pre-distorted by changing the magnitude and the sign of the coefficients A1 to A3. Each tap can be enabled and configured on demand. This allows determining the optimal topology based on power efficiency and transmission performance. Typically the falling edge of the VCSEL signal is slower than the rising edge, which results in pulse width distortion (PWD). This non-linear effect can close the bottom eye in a PAM-4 eye diagram, effectively limiting the total performance. This effect is compensated by the insertion of the selective falling-edge pre-emphasis (SFEP) block in the channel. This block generates a pre-emphasized current pulse only when both MSB and LSB experience a transition from high to low, hence the name selective. The VCSEL driver chip was fabricated in 130 nm SiGe BiCMOS technology from ST Microelectronics and measures 1 mm x 2.8 mm. The chip layout is shown in Figure 17(a).

The TIA channel architecture is shown in Figure 17(b). The TIA chip features a low-noise linear data path with an event-driven gain/bandwidth control loop. The data path contains all high-frequency stages. The first stage, the TIA core, converts the current going into pdan to a voltage, which is then fed to one of the inputs of the differential main amplifier and 50 Ω output buffer. Multi-level modulation requires a linear receiver front-end to preserve the different eye openings as a traditional, limiting, NRZ receiver would compress the outer eye diagrams. In order to achieve the required linearity and bandwidth for PAM-4 detection, an event-driven gain/bandwidth control loop is developed to avoid saturation in the various amplifier stages, while providing sufficient gain to ease further signal processing in a system test bed or demodulator. The TIA chip was fabricated in 130 nm SiGe BiCMOS technology from ST Microelectronics and measures 1 mm x 3.7 mm. The chip layout is shown in Figure 17(b).

Measurement results

The performance of the MIRAGE driver is first measured through electrical probing. Clear PAM-4 electrical eye has been observed up to 36 GBaud (72 Gb/s). The optoelectronic performance is tested by wire bonding the driver to a 22 GHz VCSEL from TUM. Pre-distorting the output current of the VCSEL driver with a 4-tap FFE significantly reduces the inter-symbol interference of the PAM-4 signal as can be noticed in the 28 GBaud eye diagrams of Figure 18(a). This conclusion can also be derived from the BER plots at 25 and 28 GBaud in Figure 18(b,c). Considering an RS(544,514) code with a pre-FEC BER limit of 5.2 x 10-4, sensitivity is improved by 1.4 dB at 25 Gbaud and 3.8 dB at 28 Gbaud. Performance at 0 dBm is well below FEC limit with a BER smaller than 10-6 and error free at 25 Gbaud. With a record length of 2.8 x 107 bits, this corresponds to an upper BER limit of 1.7 x 10-7 at a 95 % confidence level. Opting for a 3-tap FFE at 56 Gb/s results in 9.6 pJ/bit, which is twice as efficient as recent 56 Gb/s NRZ drivers, while the 4th tap could become crucial when compensating chromatic dispersion in longer SMF links and should be further investigated.

The MIRAGE linear optical receiver was tested in a separate setup. The transmitter is comprised of a continuous-wave 1550 nm laser and a 25 GHz Mach-Zehnder Modulator (MZM), modulated by an electrical PAM-4 signal from an AWG yielding a 5.9 dB ratio between the optical powers corresponding to the normalized levels +1 and −1. The results of the BER measurements are shown in Figure 19(b), along with our preliminary results (red line) and the forward error correction (FEC) BER limit of 10−3. The BER curves are the combined result of both high and low gain modes, at each point utilizing the mode yielding the lowest BER. As can be seen in the figure, the BER limit at 56 Gb/s (64 Gb/s) is achieved for average optical input powers between −8.4 dBm (−7.0 dBm) and at least 1.6 dBm (1.7 dBm) when selecting the appropriate TIA mode. Eye diagrams were measured at 56 Gb/s and 64 Gb/s and shown in Figure 19(left).

WP5: Optical/electrical 3D chip integration and AOC assembly

WP5 addressed the development of 2.5D and 3D integration processes and associated technologies. Work focused on the following activities:

  • Silicon interposers with through silicon vias (TSVs)
  • Combined photonic-electronic silicon interposers for 3D integration
  • Bonding of electronics and optoelectronics for 3D integrated chips
  • Bonding of electronics and optoelectronics for 2.5D integrated chips
  • Design and fabrication of prototype demonstrators

Achievements in the above activities are outlined in the following sections.

Silicon interposers with through silicon vias (TSVs)

With the increasing use of 3D packaging techniques, interposers with TSVs are receiving more and more interest. TSVs provide electrical contacts on the backside of chips, facilitating assembly on PCBs with industry-compatible flip-chip techniques. Thus 3D interposers are an elegant way of reducing assembly costs and shortening electrical interconnections, which can compromise signal integrity and increase power consumption.

MIRAGE has capitalized on the technology of the elegant tungsten TSV-last process developed by AMS. Within the project the bandwidth of the TSVs was increased substantially from less than 10 GHz to above 40 GHz. During the project several design variations of silicon interposers with tungsten TSVs were designed and fabricated. TSV height (100μm and 200μm) and of the TSV diameter (40μm and 80μm) were varied and the 3dB bandwidth was measured using bespoke S-parameter structures, for the following combinations:

  • 80 μm diameter, 200 μm height, std isolation oxide thickness: 23 GHz bandwidth
  • 40 μm diameter, 200 μm height, std isolation oxide thickness: 28 GHz bandwidth
  • 40 μm diameter, 100 μm height, std isolation oxide thickness: >40 GHz bandwidth

There is a clear trend visible that with smaller diameter and less TSV height a bandwidth of more than 40GHz can be achieved. This excellent result is more than sufficient for the needs of the MIRAGE demonstrators.

To facilitate characterization of the TSVs, s-parameter structures were developed. Typical s-parameter structures consist of 2 TSVs for transmitting the signal to the wafer backside and another TSV for the back-transmission, i.e. in order to find out the signal loss in one TSV it is required to measure the signal attenuation in two TSVs in series, which increases the noise. A new type of s-parameter structures was designed, following the idea that the same signal attenuation will take place in a TSV that is not directly in the signal path, but that is electrically closely attached to the signal path.

Combined photonic-electronic silicon interposers for 3D integration

MIRAGE developed the methodology to generate silicon interposers with photonic and electronic functionalities. This is achieved in MIRAGE by wafer bonding of the silicon electronic interposer wafers, developed by AMS, with silicon photonic wafers fabricated by AMO. The combined process flow for the fabrication of the silicon photonic/electronic interposer boards at the two foundries has been developed. The assembly flow for attaching electronic and optoelectronic components on the silicon boards has been developed, thus enabling the design of a QSFP transceiver prototype. Requirements coming from the assembly point of view, concerning e.g. compatibility of the required processes for implementing the SU8 in-plane couplers for low-loss fiber coupling, are all integrated in the process flow.

A combined fabrication run was carried out, proving the validity of the developed process flow and the smooth cooperation of the partners. The wafers were started at AMS with the processing of a basic alignment mark, and then sent to AMO, where the waveguides were processed. As the minimum wave guide structures went down to 50 nm, the electron beam lithography system of AMO had to be used. Further processing of the interposer with the metallisation above the wave guides and the TSV processing with metallisation on the back-side of the TSV was performed by AMS. The opening of the window for the adiabatic coupling of light was again a cooperation: AMS did the oxide etch and the stop-layer removal, while AMS released the wave guide and developed the processing of the SU-8 polymer wave guide. It should be noted that the optical properties of the silicon photonic structures were only slightly affected by the overall process flow, introducing a penalty of the order of 0.9 dB/cm and 0.9 dB/GC.

Bonding of electronics and optoelectronics for 2.5D integrated chips

A method for the flip-chip assembly of VCSELs on conventional grating couplers was developed, tacking with the 10 degrees off-vertical coupling of the latter. This concept was necessary in order to allow reliable low-cost assembly of the VCSELs on standard silicon chips (e.g. available in PDKs of commercial MPW services) that were used in the 2.5D configuration of the MIRAGE optical engine.

The developed approach relies on SU8 prisms that are defined on top of the GCs using non-uniform laser ablation process. The prism enables perfectly vertical coupling from the bonded VCSEL to the GC. The VCSELs are flip-chip bonded on top of the silicon GCs employing the laser transfer printing assisted thermocompression technique. A schematic of the approach is shown in Figure 24.

The simplicity of this technique lies in the fact that the prism angle can be tuned just by adjusting the laser energy and sample scan speed. Micro-bumps of indium solder with ~20 μm diameter and ~7 μm thickness were then printed on the VCSEL bonding pads employing the laser transfer technique. The final step in the assembly was to flip-chip bond the VCSEL chips onto the GCs with SU8 prism fabricated on top. The VCSEL chips were diced using the Timebandwidth Duetto laser at a fluence of 3.3 J/cm2.

Measurements yield a <1 dB excess loss due to the overall assembly process. The main contributing factor for the excess loss is attributed to the misalignment during bonding as the flip-chip process involved passive alignment of the VCSEL and SOI chip. Figure 26 shows the optical spectrum measured at the output of the waveguide using an optical spectrum analyzer with a resolution of 0.05 nm and a dynamic range of 40 dB, at a driving current of 5 mA. The spectra were continuously recorded over a period of 45 minutes for different current values and no significant effect of backreflection from the prism (no shoulders around the main peak) was observed.

Bonding of electronics and optoelectronics for 3D integrated chips

A 90 degree out-of-plane coupling mirror was developed at the tip of the SU8 spot size convertor, which will be used to couple light from the SOI towards the photodiode array, and towards the multicore fiber array. This process was developed at IMEC-CMST, based on Excimer laser ablation. The process was optimized in terms of coupling angle (45 degrees), as well as the deformation and contamination inherent to laser ablation was eliminated, by covering the SU8 waveguide with a temporarily protective coating (resist), which can be washed away after completing the process. Microscope images of the cross-section are included below.

The bonding technology for all electronics and optoelectronics was developed in view of maximizing compatibility of the different processing steps. The developed process was based on Au stud bumps and the associated process was investigated in detail by IMEC- CMST, in order to limit the distance from active device to the SOI, and in addition comply with the limitations in bonding temperature imposed by the MIRAGE VCSELs. For that reason, the Au stud bumps are flattened, and the bonding is achieved using laser transfer printed Indium solder, which allows for assembly at low temperature (Figure 28). Instead of using gold to gold stud bumping at high temperatures, a low temperature bonding process based on Indium solder was applied.

Instead of using gold to gold stud bumping at high temperatures, a low temperature bonding process based on Indium solder was applied. The laser transfer printing process for Indium solder deposition on a chip level was already established within the first two years of the project. However, the formation of InAu intermetallics was studied in more detail in the last reporting period, as a function of the applied temperature and pressure. InAu intermetallics are stable up to very high temperatures, which allows for a stable assembly up to very high temperatures. A few results of the SEM_EDX analysis are included above, indicating the presence of AuIn2 compounds in the interface (thermally stable up to > 500 degrees C). All assembly steps associated to the 3D integrated configuration of the MIRAGE optical engine have been developed on test samples.

Design and fabrication of prototype demonstrators

The developed process flow and combined design rules were applied to design a number of prototype demonstrators. Different configurations of the MIRAGE optical engine were considered, such as assembly of active optoelectronics on a PCB, assembly on an electrical interposer and assembly on an electro-optical interposer. Examples are shown in the following figure.

WP6: Performance evaluation and system testing

WP6 concerns the evaluation of the MIRAGE components and prototypes. State-of-the-art testbeds were setup by the project partners and were customized to accommodate the requirements of MIRAGE.

Main results are outlined below:

PAM-4 modulation up to 80 Gb/s with MIRAGE VCSELs

The performance of the MIRAGE VCSELs was evaluated at baudrates beyond 28 Gbaud with PAM-4 modulation. The VCSELs had a 3-dB bandwidth of 20.5 GHz and were probed for the experiment. Figure 30 illustrates the experimental setup, based on an 8-bit, 65 GSa/s Arbitrary Waveform Generator (AWG) generating directly the PAM-4 signal driving the VCSEL. Raised Cosine (RC) pulse-shaping with a roll-off factor a=1 was implemented in order to confine the bandwidth of the signal to the main lobe.

Figure 31 depicts eye diagrams at 32 Gbaud and 40 Gbaud, acquired with a 70 GHz equivalent time oscilloscope before (back-to-back) and after propagation over 500 m.

BER measurements were performed to the received signal after digitization with a 33 GHz, 80 GSa/s real-time oscilloscope and offline resampling and symbol timing recovery, followed by static equalization to compensate the channel bandwidth limitations. Automatic thresholding for symbol detection followed by BER assessment were performed so as to evaluate the received PAM-4 signals both in back-to-back configuration and after transmission over 500 m SMF. The BER performance was realized by comparing the received sampled signal to the original bit sequence and counting the actual erroneous bits of the received signal. Figure 32 presents the measured bathtub curves. At 32 Gbaud and average input power ranging between -10 dBm and 0 dBm the obtained BER curve lies below Hard FEC limit in both transmission scenarios. Moreover, at 40 Gbaud a reasonable degradation of the measured BER was noted, mainly due to the fact that the 20 GHz 3-dB bandwidth of the VCSEL posed a corresponding limit to the lowest measurable BER. Nevertheless, the achieved BER at 40 Gbaud was still below Hard FEC limit even after propagation over 500 m. It should be noted that the limiting operation of the available receiver that was used in the setup caused an additional penalty to the signal especially for high received power levels.

MIRAGE single-mode VCSEL link

A PAM-4 experiment was held in order to evaluate the performance of a full link implemented with the MIRAGE Tx and Rx platform. The experimental setup is depicted in Figure 33 and relied on an Arbitrary Waveform Generator generating two NRZ streams that were supplied to the MIRAGE transmitter, which formed the PAM-4 test signal after retiming. An Erbium Doped Fiber Amplifier and a Variable Optical Attenuator (VOA) were used in order to adjust the incident optical power in the MIRAGE linear receiver, enabling the measurement of Bit-Error-Rate vs. incident power.

The PAM-4 optical eye diagrams at 25, 28 and 32 Gbaud for the back-to-back, 500 m and 2 km transmission scenarios are presented in Figure 34. The effect of bandwidth limitations is evident with the increase of the baud rate. Moreover, propagation through the 2 km of SMF impairs the signal due to fiber dispersion at 1550 nm.

BER measurements were obtained after acquisition of both differential outputs of the received PAM-4 signal with a 33 GHz, 80 GSa/s Agilent Infinium real-time oscilloscope. Subsequent offline processing was comprised of re-sampling, symbol timing recovery followed by a static equalizer to (partially) compensate the channel bandwidth limitations and automatic thresholding for symbol detection. The BER performance was evaluated by comparing the received sampled signal to the original bit sequence and counting the actual erroneous bits of the received signal. Figure 35 presents the measured BER curves at 25, 28 and 32 Gbaud for the aforementioned transmission scenarios, plotted against the average received optical power derived from the measured photocurrent. The achieved BER for the single mode VCSEL link lies well below the FEC limit both at 25 Gbaud and 28 Gbaud, whereas only after propagation in 500 m at 32 Gbaud fails to reach the FEC limit mainly due to the effect of dispersion. The power penalties after transmission in 500 m and 2 km SMF at 25 Gbaud are 0.2 dB and 0.6 dB respectively for a BER equal to 6·10-4. Similarly, the received 28 Gbaud signal exhibits a power penalty of 1.8 dB for a BER in the order of 5·10-4.

The MIRAGE receiver was also tested with an externally-modulated reference transmitter to investigate its capabilities. The experimental setup is shown in Figure 36.

Typical eye diagrams at 25, 28, 32 and 35 Gbaud are depicted in Figure 37.

The BER performance of the implemented link was evaluated using the same procedure as explained above. No equalization was applied in the waveforms acquired by the real time oscilloscope. Figure 38 presents the measured bathtub curves for 25, 28, 32 and 35 Gbaud input signals plotted against the average received optical power, derived from the measured photocurrent. As observed, at 25 Gbaud and average input power ranging between -6 dBm and +3 dBm, the received signal exhibits zero errors, which corresponds to an upper 95 % confidence limit of 2.9×10-7. It is clear that even at 35 Gbaud the minimum achieved BER lies below the FEC limit, proving the suitability of the MIRAGE linear receiver for long-reach optical interconnects.

WP7: Applicability, techno-economical assessment and integration standardization

WP7 aimed to raise awareness of the project and to maximize the exploitation potential from the developed technologies to the project partners. The following types of activities were carried out within MIRAGE:

Exploitation of project foreground knowledge

  • All partners elaborated on their exploitation plan and identified opportunities for application of the developed technology in their roadmaps. The high level of integration in MIRAGE and the particularities of the developed technology open new opportunities for collaboration between the industrial partners as well as for use cases in other fields outside the optical interconnects business.
  • Collaborations with other initiatives were setup. MIRAGE interacted with the following organizations and projects: EPIC, PARADIGM, ECOIC, PhoxTrot, ePIXfab, DISCUS.
  • The MIRAGE consortium followed an industry-driven IPR policy that motivated IP protection prior to publication. As a result, five patents and one provisional patent were filed throughout the duration of MIRAGE.

Dissemination of project foreground knowledge

  • MIRAGE partners were particularly active in disseminating project outcomes. The state-of-the-art results obtained within the project resulted in a large number of scientific publications (66) in top-ranked journals and conferences.
  • MIRAGE partners also participated in workshops, events and expositions and presented the project concept and outcomes. Overall, MIRAGE partners disseminated the project activities in more than 12 events.
  • The MIRAGE website was prepared and regularly updated by the project coordinator. In its public part, the website provided information on the project objectives, updates on its achievements and contact details to its partners. Information was presented in an incremental manner so as to address individuals with different levels of knowledge in the field.
  • Dissemination to the general public was facilitated with the MIRAGE video clip, which presents the project’s approach and potential impact in a simplified manner accessible to individuals without deep knowledge in the field.



Socio-economic impact

Optical interconnects play a central role in ICT systems, extending beyond the limits of the Datacom sector and penetrating consumer electronics. According to Infonetics the overall data center networking market alone will reach $21.85 billion by 2018 on an 11.8% growth rate. This burgeoning market is driving growth in optical interconnects, as they represent an integral part of its ecosystem (along with switches and network interface cards). Lightcounting predicts that by 2018, the market for Ethernet optical interconnects (1/10/40/100 GbE) will reach an aggregate of approximately $2.2 billion. Chip-level optical interconnects are also gaining traction and are expected to generate $990M in revenues by 2020, as foreseen by CIR.

The overall global data center market was estimated to be worth ~$150bn in 2014, growing at 9-10% a year. Already there is over 1.8 billion square feet of data center space in 8.6 million data centers worldwide. Although North America led the early deployment of data center, the industry has globalized rapidly as shown by the global distribution of data center space. Whilst North America is still significant, data center area in China has grown rapidly Europe represents 26% of the data center area. The market for the equipment contained in those centers is worth ~$114bn in 2014/15 and forecast to grow by over 14% annually, driven by both replacement of existing equipment and new data center build.

MIRAGE is well-positioned to claim a large share of this burgeoning market. The project has introduced a set of technologies (single-mode, WDM, SDM, PAM-4 modulation) capable of scaling interconnects capacity individually or as a combination, according to the requirements of the application. These technologies are arguably the key enablers for future optical-interconnects suited to the capacity and reach requirements of scale- out datacenters. The project also took considerable care to address system integration and packaging, recognizing their importance as key contributors to the overall cost of optical interconnects, and thus sought to provide a viable path for integration of its state-of-the-art components into value-added products. Three configurations have been actively investigated in the project, starting from current established production practices and extending to more forward-looking concepts that vouch for further cost savings and component miniaturization once they reach the market. It should be noted that although assembly and packaging is currently dominated by the far-East, application of 2.5 and 3D integration approaches in Datacom and Computercom (as pioneered in MIRAGE) offers a unique opportunity for Europe to recapture assembly and packaging on its soil.

The MIRAGE consortium is industry-driven and includes players across the value chain, enabling commercialization of the technology with a Europe-based supply chain. Most importantly, the consortium includes a leading vendor of optical interconnects, Mellanox, providing a viable path to the market. Mellanox has proven consistent leadership in each new technology generation as it was the first to market end-to-end solutions for 25, 50 and 100 Gb/s. According to Crehan Research Group Mellanox is the fastest growing Ethernet Vendor, whereas the company is the leading vendor for Infiniband, which is dominating the HPC application space. With revenues of $196.8 million and over 2000 employees in Europe, Mellanox is a competent player with a considerable socio-economic impact in Europe. The company sees substantial value in the technologies developed within MIRAGE as key enablers for sustaining growth in optical interconnects and reinforcing Europe’s share in the global scene.

Wider societal implications

Today’s data-affluent society relies on datacenters to store and rapidly access massive amounts of information. The internet, as the means of accessing this information, has evolved into a key driver for economy, as well as into a means for social interaction and social inclusion. Reflecting its content-centric design, the entire internet is built around datacenters. Scaling internet performance and associated cloud services necessitates scaling of datacenter connectivity; more specifically intra-datacenter connectivity, since more than 2/3 of datacenter traffic concerns east-west connections between hosts inside the datacenter. MIRAGE technology aims to provide a viable solution for gracefully scaling capacity in datacenters, and can therefore underpin the societal implications of enhanced datacenter connectivity. Prominent examples are outlined below:

Supporting the digital single market. Data centers are the enablers for all types of digital goods and services. From value-added services offered by the cloud to instant content delivery provided by edge computing, datacenter technologies offer unlimited opportunities affecting economic growth and access to knowledge. Optical interconnects are essential to remove current barriers in the access of online services and create an environment of equal opportunities, where digital networks and services can prosper.

Increase supercomputer achievements: Optical interconnects are essential in high-performance computing (HPC) systems. Scaling the performance of HPC is expected to have a significant impact in a broad variety of societal challenges, giving rise to breakthroughs in medicine, material design, climate modelling and more.


The Project’s Public web-site: (http://www.ict-mirage.eu/)

The public website of MIRAGE Project website played a key role to the dissemination and the exploitation of the project results. The website was designed to fulfill the following objectives:

  1. To present the profile of MIRAGE to the visitors of the site (members of the scientific community, people from industry, general public).
  2. To efficiently present the MIRAGE specific objectives, methodology and progress on the research activities. This targets in particular the members of the scientific community and the people from industry and aims at attracting their interest, increasing the visibility of the project and creating a momentum for MIRAGE technology and prototypes in the next years.
  3. To establish the website as an interesting point of reference from people coming from different scientific fields, i.e. polymer science, high‐speed electronics and optoelectronics and optical communications. To fulfil this, the website has been designed so as to contain information and news from recent developments in these fields and announcements for relevant events (conferences, workshops, etc).
  4. To become a point of reference for the consortium members concentrating the main documents and enabling flow of information between the partners.
  5. To facilitate efficient information flow and submission of documents to the EC.

The home page of MIRAGE’ public website.


The MIRAGE Consortium