IBM has announced a new photonics technology which will allow silicon chips to use light as an alternative to wired electrical signals to transport data more rapidly over long distances.

Scientists have developed and trialled the new fully integrated wavelength multiplexed silicon photonics chip which Big Blue claims will allow the creation of 100Gb/s optical transceivers. The firm hopes that these speeds will enable data centres to reach greater data and bandwidth rates for the growing demand from the cloud computing and Big Data industries.

“Making silicon photonics technology ready for widespread commercial use will help the semiconductor industry keep pace with ever-growing demands in computing power driven by Big Data and cloud services,” said Arvind Krishna, IBM Research director and senior vice president.

“Just as fibre optics revolutionised the telecommunications industry by speeding up the flow of data, bringing enormous benefits to consumers, we’re excited about the potential of replacing electric signals with pulses of light,” he added.

“This technology is designed to make future computing systems faster and more energy efficient, while enabling customers to capture insights from Big Data in real time,” Krishna continued.

Silicon photonics works by deploying minuscule optical units to transfer light pulses to send large volumes of data at very high speeds between server computer chips, data centres, supercomputers. The optical technology aims to tackle the limitations on transporting data such as congestion and expensive interconnects.

The new IBM chips use four different colours of light travelling along an optical fibre instead of traditional copper wires. The company says that the single silicon chip, using sub-100nm semiconductor technology, is able to send data from 63 million tweets or six million photos in one second, and download a complete feature-length HD film in just two seconds.

IBM added that the manufacturing of the chip uses traditional fabrication processes, making the technology ready for immediate commercialisation.