Exclusive: Canadian silicon photonics firm Ranovus partners with MediaTek to seize AI opportunities

Judy Lin, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Ranovus, a Canadian silicon photonics scaleup company specializing in high-speed optical interconnect chips, announced on March 20, 2024, a groundbreaking partnership with MediaTek Inc., Taiwan's leading fabless semiconductor firm, to deliver the industry's first 6.4Tbps Co-Packaged Optics (CPO) solution with integrated lasers aimed at AI data centers.

In an exclusive interview with DIGITIMES Asia, Ranovus founder, chairman, and CEO, Hamid Arabzadeh, highlighted the remarkable advancement in their silicon photonics chip technology developed for MediaTek's application. Ranovus' new ODIN® chip, which will be showcased at the OFC 2024 conference held in San Diego, USA from 24-28 March 2024, enables MediaTek to boast eight times the capacity for their CPO system than the solution that Ranovus previously co-launched with AMD/Xilinx in 2023.

Arabzadeh noted, "Our ODIN® interconnect platform, equipped with on-chip lasers, allows silicon photonics interconnects to be co-packaged with Compute, Memory, and Networking semiconductor chips to create breakthrough products for AI/ML applications in data centers. Our collaboration delivers substantial new value to our customers by expanding the addressable market for their AI AISCs by a factor of four".

Ranovus' Chief Business Development Officer Hojjat Salemi underscored the soaring market demand for these products, especially in AI/ML compute servers. He cited calculations that implementing ChatGPT capabilities in the OpenAI LLM engine would require a massive number of ODIN® optical interconnects equivalent to a potential revenue opportunity in billions of dollars. Additionally, Salemi indicated that companies like Nvidia require huge numbers of optical interconnect chips for GPU scale-up and scale-out, further underlining the soaring market demand for this type of technology.

Silicon photonics has emerged as a game-changer in data center technology, with Ranovus positioning itself as a system-level product design company. Collaborating with semiconductor giants like AMD/Xilinx, MediaTek, and other unannounced partners, and foundries such as GlobalFoundries for Silicon Photonics and the Canadian Photonic Fabrication Center (CPFC) for lasers, allows Ranovus to deliver Application-Specific Optical Engines (ASOE) that are then co-packaged into high power- and performance-efficient compute servers. The company currently manufactures its ODIN® product at its headquarters in Ottawa, Canada, and is planning the expansion of its production into various geographies.

Generative AI is causing compute capacity in data centers to double every 3.4 months, surpassing Moore's Law which predicts the doubling of the number of transistors on an integrated circuit (IC) every two years. While electrical interconnects are traditionally used to connect semiconductor chips in a compute server, the massive demand for capacity and the need for power and cost-efficient solutions are driving an abrupt transition to optical interconnects.

Arabzadeh remarked, "This presents a significant opportunity for ASIC companies, GPU manufacturers, and semiconductor firms to integrate Ranovus' power and cost-efficient ASOE platform into their data center products, driving innovation at the core and edge of their data networks."

Collaborating with customers using a system approach

With a background in optical networking from his tenure at Nortel and as the Chairman and CEO of CoreOptics (acquired by Cisco), Arabzadeh leads Ranovus' focus on silicon photonics. The company's shift in 2019 towards silicon photonics and its recent focus on AI/ML applications stems from geopolitical influences impacting its earlier markets.

Ranovus coined the term "Application Specific Optical Engine" to describe their approach to designing products. Similar to Application-Specific Integrated Circuits (ASICs), ASOEs are customized optical engines tailored to specific compute and optical networking requirements.

Arabzadeh went on to explain that Ranovus designs its products based on system specifications provided by its customers, such as distances between chips and power consumption, and actively supports its partners and their OSATs (Outsourced Semiconductor Assembly and Test) in developing the advanced manufacturing and assembly capabilities required to co-package ASOE into breakthrough products for data centers. He emphasized that one of the key differentiators of Ranovus' monolithic silicon photonics technology is its industry-leading power consumption efficiency which has emerged as a crucial factor in the cost of operating and scaling data centers.

Poised to capture the AI boom

Ranovus' journey spans over a decade, marked by strategic partnerships with industry leaders like Xilinx, AMD, MediaTek, and GlobalFoundries, and a cautious go-to-market and funding strategy that prioritizes IP creation and delivering real solutions to their customers over pure marketing hype. They attribute their success to their unwavering commitment to their partners and their ability to navigate challenges in the rapidly evolving technology landscape. As they gear up to capture the AI boom, Ranovus remains poised for significant growth in the ever-evolving technology landscape.

Hamid holding a CPO. Credit: Ranovus

Hamid Arabzadeh holding a CPO. Credit: Ranovus

Credit: Ranovus

MediaTekASIC co-packaged with 6.4Tbps RANOVUS' Odin® direct-drive CPO 3.0 Credit: Ranovus