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Introduction To Optical Amplifiers

1. Introduction:
Optical amplifiers, as the key technology for optical
communication networks, have made it possible to
transmit many terabits of data over distances from a
few hundred kilometers and up to transoceanic
distances

with

wavelength-division

multiplexing

(WDM) technology, which allows the transmission of


multiple

channels

transmission

over

distance

the
of

same
any

fiber.

optical

The
fiber

communication system is eventually limited by fiber


losses.Optical amplifiers overcome the loss limitation
by amplifying the entire WDM signals in strength by
several

orders

of

magnitude

without

requiring

conversion of each channel to the electric domain,


thus permitting a dramatic increase in capacity of the
transmission system and providing the data capacity
required

for

current

and

future

communication

networks. The purpose of this passage is to provide an

overview of optical amplifiers.


2. The Practical Principles of Optical Amplifiers
A basic optical communication link is composed of a
transmitter and receiver, with an optical fiber cable
connecting them. Although signals propagating in
optical fibers suffer far less attenuation than in other
mediums, such as copper, there is still a limit of about
100 km on the distance the signals can travel before
becoming too noisy to be detected. Before the advent
of optical amplifiers, it was essential to electronically
regenerate the optical signals every 80-100 km in
order to accomplish transmission over long distances.
Although feasible when transmitting a single lowcapacity optical channel, it becomes unfeasible when
transmitting tens of high-capacity WDM channels, thus
resulting in an expensive, power hungry and bulky
regenerator station,
A optical amplifier is designed to directly amplify any
input optical signal, without transforming it first to an
electronic signal. It can amplify all WDM channels
together, and is generally transparent to the number
of channels, their bit-rate, protocol, and modulation

format. So a single optical amplifier can replace all the


multiple

components

required

for

an

electronic

regeneration station. Whats more, the transparency of


the optical amplifier means that the link can be
upgraded without the need to replace the amplifier.
Optical amplifiers are extensively applied in the optical
communication links. Figure 1 shows three ways in
which optical amplifiers can be used to enhance the
performance of optical communication links. A booster
amplifier is used to increase the optical output of an
optical transmitter just before a signal enters an
optical fiber. The optical signal is attenuated as it
travels in the optical fiber. An inline amplifier is used
to restore the optical signal to its original power level.
An optical pre-amplifier is used at the end of the
optical fiber link in order to increase the sensitivity of
an optical receiver.

Figure 1: Optical amplifiers in a optical communication


link
3.Types of Optical Amplifiers
There are three most important types of optical
amplifiers used in the optical communication network:
the

erbium-doped

fiber

amplifier

(EDFA),

the

semiconductor optical amplifier (SOA), and the fiber


Raman amplifier (FRA). Each of these amplifiers is
introduced as follows.
3.1 Erbium-doped fiber amplifiers
As the first optical amplifier widely used in optical
communications systems, EDFA has resulted in a

dramatic growth in transmission capacity with the


deployment of WDM systems. EDFAs are very widely
deployed and become the basis of the vast majority of
optically

amplified

systems.

EDFA

is

an

optical repeater device that is used to boost the


intensity of optical signals being carried through
a fiber optic communications system.
The erbium-doped fiber (EDF) is at the core of EDFA
technology, which is a conventional silica fiber doped
with erbium. When the erbium is illuminated with light
energy at a suitable wavelength (either 980nm or
1480nm),

it

is

motivated

to

long-lifetime

intermediate state (see Figure 2), then it decays back


to the ground state by emitting light within the 15251565 nm band. The erbium can be either pumped by
980nm light, in which case it pass through an unstable
short lifetime state before rapidly decaying to a quasistable state, or by 1480nm light in which case it is
directly excited to the quasi-stable state. Once in the
quasi-stable state, it decays to the ground state by
emitting light in the 1525-1565nm band. This decay
process can be stimulated by pre-existing light, thus

resulting in amplification.

Figure 2:The practical principle of EDFA


In generally, a EDFA consist of a EDF, a pump laser,
and a component (often referred to as a WDM) for
combining the signal and pump wavelength so that
they can propagate simultaneously through the EDF. In
principle EDFAs can be designed such that pump
energy propagates in the same direction as the signal
(forward pumping), the opposite direction to the signal
(backward pumping), or both direction together. The
pump energy may either by 980nm pump energy,
1480nm pump energy, or a combination of both.
Practically, the most common EDFA configuration is

the forward pumping configuration using 980nm pump


energy, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: The EDFA configuration


3.2 Semiconductor optical amplifiers
SOAs are amplifiers which use a semiconductor to
provide the gain medium. A semiconductor optical
amplifier is illustrated in Figure 4. The gain medium is
the undoped InGaAsP. This material can be tailored to
provide optical amplification at wavelength near 1.3
m or near 1.5 m, which is the significant wavelength
for optical communications. Other semiconductors can

be

used

to

amplify

optical

signals

at

other

wavelengths. The input and output faces of the


amplifier are antireflection-coated in order to prevent
optical feedback to the gain medium and lasing.

Figure 4: A semiconductor optical amplifier


SOAs

operate

in

similar

way

to

standard

semiconductor lasers (without optical feedback which


causes

lasing),

semiconductor

and

are

butterfly

packaged

packages.

in

Unlike

small
other

optical amplifiers, they are pumped electronically and


a separate pump laser is not required. SOAs are less
expensive and therefore suitable for using in local
networks where best performance is not required but
cost is an important factor.Despite their small size and
potentially low cost due to mass production, SOAs

suffer from a number of drawbacks which make them


unsuitable for most applications. In particular, they
provide relatively low gain, have a low saturated
output power and relatively high noise factor (NF).
These

drawbacks

makes

SOAs

unsuitable

for

multichannel application but fit for some single


channel which dont require high gain and high output
power.
3.3 Fiber Raman amplifiers
A fiber Raman amplifier is shown in Figure 5. The gain
medium is undoped fiber. Power is transferred to the
optical signal by a nonlinear optical process known as
the Raman effect. Power to supply the optical gain is
offered by an optical pump. The wavelengths that
experience optical gain are decided by the wavelength
of the optical pump, so the Raman amplifier can be
tailored to amplify a given optical wavelength by
proper selection of the pump wavelength. The optical
gain in a Raman amplifier is distributed over a long
span of optical fiber. Typically, the optical pump is
introduced at the end of a length of fiber in order to
provide optical gain that increases towards the end of

the fiber.

Figure 5: A fiber Raman amplifier


In a Raman amplifier, the signal is amplified due to
stimulated Raman scattering (SRS). Raman scattering
is a process in which light is scattered by molecules
from a lower wavelength to a higher wavelength. SRS
is a nonlinear interaction between the signal and the
pump and can take place within any optical fiber. In
most fibers however the efficiency of the SRS process
is low, high pump power (typically over 1 W) is
required to obtain useful signal gain. Thus, in most
cases Raman amplifiers cannot compete effectively
with EDFAs. On the other hand, Raman amplification
provides

two

unique

advantages

over

other

amplification technologies. The first advantage is that

the amplification wavelength band of the Raman


amplifier can be tailored by changing the pump
wavelengths, and thus amplification can be achieved
at wavelengths without being supported by competing
technologies. The second, more important, advantage
is that amplification can be achieved within the
transmission fiber itself, enabling what is known as
distributed Raman amplification (DRA). In this process
high pump power is launched into the transmission
fiber in order to provide amplification for the signal as
it travels along the fiber. Since gain occurs along the
transmission fiber, DRA prevents the signal from being
attenuated to very low powers. Raman amplifiers are
often used together with EDFAs to offer ultra-low NF
combined amplifiers, which are useful in applications
such as long links without inline amplifiers, ultra-long
links expanding thousands of kilometers, or very high
bit-rate links.
4.Conclusion
Optical amplifiers are the critical technology for the
optical

communication

networks,

enabling

the

transmission of many terabits of data over distances

from a few hundred kilometers and up to thousands of


kilometers by overcoming the fiber loss limitation.
Through

concretely

introducing

optical

amplifiers

above, I hope this passage can help you get better


understanding of optical amplifiers.
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