What are photonic devices?

Photonics is an emerging technology, comparable to semiconductor technology. Many functions in technical applications are currently realised by semiconductor products. The expectation is that photonic devices will partially replace existing semiconductor devices, but on top of that will also complement these in a qualitative way. The unique characteristics of photonic devices create an additional dimension like enlarged bandwidth, energy saving and larger communication distances. In addition, photonic devices are less sensitive to interference and have unique physical characteristics.


The drives for the application of photonic devices usually are:


  • Bandwidth and fast data processing and transfer.
  • Physical measuring characteristics and measuring principles.
  • Contactless measuring characteristics.
  • Processing possibilities of materials.
  • Energy saving.
  • Cost and dimension reduction.


Figure 1: Survey of the wavelength spectrum with corresponding frequencies



Figure 1 indicates the wavelength areas of photonic devices. This ranges from applications in infrared radiation for measuring thermal processes to the use of gamma radiation for measurements with gamma cameras in the medical sector. The operational area stretches from about 200 nm to about 1200 nm, hence larger than the range of visible light (380 - 800 nm). Imaging using THz-frequencies and the transportation of light via optical fibres with e.g. infrared signals are some other examples which illustrate the diversity of applications. Photonic devices are often used in combination with mechanics, electronics, embedded software and physical processes in liquids and chemistry. Detection, emission and transmission are important functions of photonic devices in applications.


The detection of light is used in many different applications. ICT & communications are an important sector, as well as spectrometry and the sensor market. Related to the emission function, the wavelength, intensity and ray forms of the light source vary depending on the application. The light source itself is of course a common device in many forms and ways of implementation. Investigations show that also the diversity of application areas of light sources is large. Most important is ICT & communications technology, followed by spectroscopy. Also here, transmission of light (fibre networks and connections) is important. On chip signal transmission is increasingly used, creating a situation where signal transmission and processing are increasingly combined. Transmission of light is applied in contactless measurements in the field of general measuring and regulating technology. There, position measurement, material properties and product related aspects such as temperature, colour and shape are involved. Additional functions are filtration, amplification and polarisation of light as well as other light signal processing.


The world market for photonic enabled products in 2015 is estimated to be 439 billion euros (Photonics in Europe: Economic Impact. European Technology Platform Photonics21, December 2007).

Other sources indicate an even higher prediction of 1.000 billion dollars (Optoelectronic Industry and Technology Development Association). According to data of Photonics21, Europe has realised a turnover of 49 billion euros in 2006, which amounts to 19% of the worldwide volume (Optech consulting AG).


Figure 2: Applications of photonic devices related products, services and applications in the Netherlands in 2009



Between 2005 and 2015 this volume will grow 7.6% per year, which would result in a volume of 100 billion euros in Europe in 2015. The Netherlands holds a top position in the European cluster with a market share of 7%6 and is involved with 150 companies and 25 knowledge institutes. Dutch companies active in photonic devices and related products, services and applications predict a large increase in turnover in the next 5 years. The expectation is that by the year 2014, the turnover of existing companies related to photonic devices will have increased by 35% compared to 2004. the Netherlands should be capable of enlarging their current market share of 7% to over 10%. Typical costs for the use of photonic devices in a system are 5 - 20% of total system expenses.