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Proceedings Paper

Quantum limited performance of optical receivers
Author(s): Thomas C. Farrell
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Paper Abstract

While the fundamental performance limit for traditional radio frequency (RF) communications is often set by background noise on the channel, the fundamental limit for optical communications is set by the quantum nature of light. Both types of systems are based on electro-magnetic waves, differing only in carrier frequency. It is, in fact, the frequency that determines which of these limits dominates. We explore this in the first part of this paper.

This leads to a difference in methods of analysis of the two different types of systems. While equations predicting the probability of bit error for RF systems are usually based on the signal to background noise ratio, similar equations for optical systems are often based on the physics of the quantum limit and are simply a function of the detected signal energy received per bit. These equations are derived in the second part of this paper for several frequently used modulation schemes: On-off keying (OOK), pulse position modulation (PPM), and binary differential phase shift keying (DPSK).

While these equations ignore the effects of background noise and non-quantum internal noise sources in the detector and receiver electronics, they provide a useful bound for obtainable performance of optical communication systems. For example, these equations may be used in initial link budgets to assess the feasibility of system architectures, even before specific receiver designs are considered.

Paper Details

Date Published: 2 May 2018
PDF: 11 pages
Proc. SPIE 10641, Sensors and Systems for Space Applications XI, 106410M (2 May 2018); doi: 10.1117/12.2296850
Show Author Affiliations
Thomas C. Farrell, Air Force Research Lab. (United States)


Published in SPIE Proceedings Vol. 10641:
Sensors and Systems for Space Applications XI
Khanh D. Pham; Genshe Chen, Editor(s)

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