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Start-up Kaiam claims photonic integration breakthrough

12 April 2011 
Optical start-up Kaiam made its debut by announcing Series A funding and demonstrating its first products – 40Gbps optical transmitter and receiver subassemblies for QSFP modules.  The start-up says it has a novel way of aligning the individual components on a hybrid photonic integrated circuit, which delivers high manufacturing yield, high performance and low cost.
The products themselves are designed to fit into a standard form-factor optical module.  The subassemblies are used in QSFP modules for client-side connections in telecommunications equipment, and for high-bandwidth switches and routers in enterprise networks and data centres. The 4 x 10Gbps TOSA and ROSA deliver and receive a cumulative 40Gbps in singlemode fibre with a 10km reach. 
 
The breakthrough comes in the way that Kaiam builds photonic integrated circuits (PICs).  The company says monolithic approaches to integration have too many drawbacks: they are generally expensive to develop, have poor manufacturing yield, and compromises must be made on the performance of the integrated elements. Purely hybrid packages, on the other hand, suffer from the tight alignment requirements of singlemode optics and relatively poor coupling efficiency between elements. Kaiam uses silicon micromechanics to align the optical beams during assembly, and then permanently locks down the alignment using integrated heaters to solder the parts into position.
 
Hybrid integration technology is needed to achieve the very high densities needed for compact transceivers like the QSFP and CFP (a multi-channel form factor aimed at 40 and 100 Gigabit Ethernet).   Kaiam is also developing CFP modules, and offers custom PIC designs.
 
Kaiam revealed that it has raised approximately $8m (about €5.5m) in combined Series A financing and commercial contracts. Chris Rust of US Venture Partners led the round, and will assume a seat on Kaiam’s board of directors. The commercial funding was led by two large, unnamed industrial partners, each sponsoring the development of hybrid PIC technology for a different application.
 
Kaiam was founded by Bardia Pezeshiki, who was previously the founder and chief technology officer at tunable laser maker Santur. 
 
By Pauline Rigby