Researchers at chipmaker Intel Corp. have developed a silicon-based light detector that reportedly outperforms those made of more expensive materials. The device can detect light flashes at a rate of 40 gigabits per second. By comparison, detectors used in fiber-optic networks operate at 10 gigabits per second.

The detector is also said to be more efficient and produces a cleaner signal that other detectors that operate at the same speed. When coupled with the economies of scale possible with manufacturing the detectors on large silicon wafers, the potential exists to produce detectors that are far less expensive than those used in current networks, made of materials such as indium gallium arsenide.

Intel's silicon detectors operate in a manner similar to other light detectors. Intel scientists grew layer of germanium on top of silicon waveguides, producing the electron-hole pairs needed to transmit light and generate electrical currents.

The silicon detector is the third leg in Intel's vision to use silicon for all three core components used in telecom networks. The company has previously demonstrated a silicon-based laser and a silicon light modulator. Within five years, Intel expects to combine the laser, modulator, and detector onto a single silicon chip that will not only further lower manufacturing costs but also dramatically boost signal transmission rates.

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