The deluge of data from streaming UHDTV video, the Internet-of-Things (IoT) and especially cloud services has finally created a need for circuit board-level optical interconnects as well as for optical backplanes. In the future, CIR believes that other novel services – such as those related to virtual reality and telepresence – will put even more pressure on data communications and telecommunications box makers to extend the use optics in the “guts” of their products.

This report is designed to identify new opportunities for board-level optical interconnects and optical circuit boards.  This is an area where CIR has provided coverage for many years and the forecasts and other data provided in this report are rooted in an insider experience of this interesting area. Thus, this report contains a technical analysis of the requirements of this space (issues such as power consumption, etc.) and a detailed ten-year (volume and value) forecast with breakouts by type of box (HPC, servers, routers, switches, telecom equipment, etc.), components, fiber, etc. The report also offers an assessment of the product/market strategies of key optical firms active in this area.

When CIR first began coverage of board-to-board optical interconnects, such items were mostly cobbled together in small numbers by HPC firms such as IBM.  However, what CIR is seeing now is a wave of commercialization brought on by the growing need for board-level optics in the data center.  For the past few years, much that is interesting in this area from a business perspective has been related to optical engines, with many of the largest firms in the optical components business building a interconnect product arrange around a core engine technology.  Also of growing importance in this area is the optical backplane area, which is also undergoing an area of intense commercialization.

This report provides an analysis of such activities from the perspective of revenue generation and discusses how firms active in the optical interconnect space can distinguish themselves in the market through both technology and supply chain strategies.  We are particularly interested in this report as to how the latest in optical integration/silicon photonics can benefit the optical interconnect space.  We also examine the opportunities that are presented by the high-speed electronic ICs that will be needed to support the growth of board-level optics.  In addition, we provide a critical analysis of the standards and MSA work that is being done in this space.

Table of Contents

Executive Summary
E.1 Board-level Optical Interconnection:  Market Drivers and Challenges 
E.2 Board-level Optical interconnection Opportunities:  Network Locations and Interconnect Products 
E.2.1 Active Optical Cables as Board-Level Optical Interconnects:  Short-term Opportunity 
E.2.2 Optical Engines:  A Business in the Making 
E.2.3 Proprietary Optical Links for Board-level Communications 
E.2.4 Optical Backplanes and Other Optical Boards 
E.3 Emerging Supply Structure for On-board Optical Interconnection Market:  Six Influential Companies 
E.3.1 Disappearing Companies? 
E.3.2 Ericsson (Sweden) 
E.3.3 Finisar (United States) 
E.3.4 IBM (United States) 
E.3.5 Luxtera (United States) 
E.3.6 Mellanox (Israel) 
E.3.7 Oracle (United States) 
E.4 Summary of Ten-year Forecasts of Board-Level Optical Interconnection 
E.4.1 Ten-year Forecast of Board-Level Optical Interconnection by Board-to-Board versus On-Board 
E.4.2 Ten-year Forecast of Board-Level Optical Interconnection by Type of Optical Interconnection Product 
E.4.3 Ten-year Forecast by Optical Interconnection by Media Type 
E.4.4 Ten-year Forecast by Type of Optical Interconnection by Location of Customer 
E.4.5 Alternative Scenarios for Board-Level Optical Interconnect 

Chapter One: Introduction 
1.1 Background to this Report 
1.1.1 Emerging Opportunities in Board-level Optical Interconnection 
1.1.2 The “Productization” of Board-Level Interconnects:  Slow but Steady 
1.2 Objectives and Scope of this Report 
1.2.1 Goals of this Study 
1.2.2 Scope of this Report:  Products and Topics Covered 
1.3 Methodology and Information Sources for this Report 
1.3.1 Forecasting Methodology 
1.4 Plan of this Report 

Chapter Two: Current and Future Markets for Board-Board Optical Interconnects 
2.1 Clouds and the Need for Optical Board-level Interconnection 
2.1.1 Why Clouds have become Important to Data Center Managers 
2.2 Why Cloud Data Centers Require Board Level Optical Interconnect 
2.2.1 Roadmap for Board-level Interconnection in the Cloud Data Center 
2.3 Technical Factors Driving the Market for Optical Board-level Interconnects 
2.3.1 Moore’s Law and Faster Processors 
2.3.2 Optical Interconnects and the Supercomputing Market 
2.3.3 Optical Interconnects for On-board Implementations 
2.4 Telecom and Optical Computing Market Environments for Optical Board-level Interconnects 
2.4.1 Optical Crossconnects and Optical Switches 
2.4.2 Optical Computing
2.5 Key Points Made in this Chapter 

Chapter Three:  Board-Level Optical Interconnect Products and Technologies 
3.1 High-performance Copper interconnects: End of the Road? 
3.1.1 Strategies for Dealing with the Limits of Electrical Interconnect at the Chip Level 
3.2 The Role of Optical Integration in the Rise of Optical Interconnects. 
3.2.1 Silicon Photonics 
3.2.2 Integration, Interconnect and InP 
3.3 Optical Engines 
3.3.1 Optical Engine Technology and Embedded Optics 
3.3.2 Optical Engine Suppliers and Products 
3.3.3 Optical Engines versus AOCs:  Different Opportunities for Board-Level Communications 
3.4 Optical Backplanes and Other PCBs 
3.4.1 Roadmap for Optical PCBs 
3.4.2 Optical Backplanes 
3.4.3 Optical Motherboards 
3.4.4 Waveguide Technology for Optical Boards 
3.4.5 The role of Free-space Optics in Optical Backplanes 
3.4.6 Other Technology Approaches to Optical Boards 
3.5 The Consortium for On-Board Optics 
3.5.1 Goals of COBO 
3.5.2 Backwards Compatibility 
3.5.3 Relevance to Telecom Applications 
3.6 Key Points Made in this Chapter 

Appendix A: Ten-Year Forecasts of Board-level Optical Interconnection Markets 
A.1 Sources of Core Forecasting Data: Types of Board Likely to Use Optical Interconnects 
A.1.1 Inherent Limits of Data Collection 
A.2 Forecasting Market Penetrations 
A.2.1 Modeling Board-to-Board Optical Interconnection 
A.2.2 Modeling On-Board Optical Interconnection 
A.3 Ten-Year Forecast of Board-to-Board Optical Interconnects by Type of Interconnect Product 
A.3.1 Board-to-Board Optical Interconnects for Data Center Servers 
A.3.2 Board-to-Board Optical Interconnection for Switches and Routers 
A.4 Ten-Year Forecast of On-Board Optical Interconnects by Type of Interconnect Product 
A.4.1 On-Board Optical Interconnects for Data Center Servers
A.4.2 On-Board Optical Interconnects for Switches and Routers 
A.4.3 On-Board Optical Interconnects for Motherboards 
A.4.4 Optical Backplanes 
A.5 Pricing of Optical Interconnection 
A.5.1 Pricing Methodologies by Type of Optical Interconnect Product 
A.5.2 Uncertainties about Optical Interconnect Product Pricing 
A.6 Ten-Year Forecast of Active Optical Cable as a Board Level Optical Interconnect 
A.7 Optical Engines 
A.8 Other Optic Links for Board-Level Optical Interconnect 
A.9 Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Boards 
A.9.1 Ten-year Forecast of Optical Backplanes 
A.9.2 Ten-year Forecast of Optical Motherboards 
A.9.3 Ten-year Forecast of Other Optical PCBs 

List of Exhibits
Exhibit E-1: Impact of Demand Side Trends on the Need for Optical Interconnect 
Exhibit E-2:  Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Interconnection:  Board-to-Board Versus On-Board ($ Millions) 
Exhibit E-3:  Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Interconnection by Product Type ($ Millions) 
Exhibit E-4:  Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Interconnection by Location of Customer ($ Millions) 
Exhibit 1-1:  Current Board-Level Optical Interconnect Products 
Exhibit 2-1:  Expansion of Data Traffic to 2020 – Cisco’s View 
Exhibit 2-2: Roadmap of Board-level Interconnection in the Cloud Data Center 
Exhibit 2-3: Advantages and Disadvantages for Optical Interconnection for On-Board Environments 
Exhibit 3-1: Strategies for Avoiding the Interconnect Bottleneck 
Exhibit 3-2: Opportunities for Optical Integration in High-Speed Networks 
Exhibit 3-3: Selected Optical Engine Firms and Products 
Exhibit 3-4:  Advantages of Polymer Waveguides for Optical PCBs 
Exhibit A-1:  Ten-Year Forecast of Circuit Board Shipments (Millions) 
Exhibit A-2:  Ten-Year Forecast of Board-to-Board Interconnects Shipments 
Exhibit A-3:  Ten-Year Forecast of On-Board Interconnects Shipments (Millions) 
Exhibit A-4: Ten-Year Forecast of Board-to-Board Optical Interconnection:  Boards for Data Center Servers 
Exhibit A-5: Ten-Year Forecast of Board-to-Board Optical Interconnection:  Large Switches and Routers 
Exhibit A-6: Ten-Year Forecast of On-Board Optical Interconnection:  Boards for Data Center Servers 
Exhibit A-7:  Ten-Year Forecast of On-Board Optical Interconnection:  Switches and Routers 
Exhibit A-8: Ten-Year Forecast of On-Board Optical Interconnection:  Motherboards 
Exhibit A-9: Ten-Year Forecast of On-Board Optical Interconnection: Optical Backplanes 
Exhibit A-10:  Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Interconnection Pricing ($) 
Exhibit A-11:  Ten-Year Forecast of Board-to-Board AOCs 
Exhibit A-12:  Ten-Year Forecast of On-Board AOCs 
Exhibit A-13:  Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Engines:  Board-to-Board 
Exhibit A-14:  Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Engines:  On-Board 
Exhibit A-15: Ten-Year Forecast of Other Links for Optical Interconnect:  Board-to-Board 
Exhibit A-16:  Ten-Year Forecast of Other Links for Optical Interconnect: On Board 
Exhibit A-17:  Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Backplanes 
Exhibit A-18:  Ten-Year Forecast of Optical Motherboards 
Exhibit A-19:  Ten-Year Forecast of Other Optical PCBs 

Request an Invoice close

Ordering a CIR report can be done through the following means

  • A) Secured online purchase via credit card (AMEX, Visa and MasterCard) on our report pages
  • B) Request an invoice via our product page and we will send it same day
  • C) Call our offices during normal business hours (use contact phone) and place your order over the telephone.

Login Form close
Take a moment to sign up on the CIR website to be notified of new reports, news and articles. close

We will not sell/share your name with a 3rd party.

Contact Information:


2025 Library Avenue, Suite 402, Crozet, VA 22932






Purchasing questions

Please contact CIR during normal business hours of 8:30-5:30 East Coast time (US).  You can also fill out this contact form at any time and we will follow up with you promptly.