Doped fiber amplifiers (DFAs) are optical amplifiers that use a doped optical fiber as a gain medium to amplify an optical signal. They are related to fiber lasers. The signal to be amplified and a pump laser are multiplexed into the doped fiber, and the signal is amplified through interaction with the doping ions. The most common example is the Erbium Doped Fiber Amplifier (EDFA), where the core of a silica fiber is doped with trivalent erbium ions and can be efficiently pumped with a laser at a wavelength of 980 nm or 1,480 nm, and exhibits gain in the 1,550 nm region.
An erbium-doped waveguide amplifier (EDWA) is an optical amplifier that uses a waveguide to boost an optical signal.
Amplification is achieved by stimulated emission of photons from dopant ions in the doped fiber. The pump laser excites ions into a higher energy from where they can decay via stimulated emission of a photon at the signal wavelength back to a lower energy level. The excited ions can also decay spontaneously (spontaneous emission) or even through nonradiative processes involving interactions with phonons of the glass matrix. These last two decay mechanisms compete with stimulated emission reducing the efficiency of light amplification.
The amplification window of an optical amplifier is the range of optical wavelengths for which the amplifier yields a usable gain. The amplification window is determined by the spectroscopic properties of the dopant ions, the glass structure of the optical fiber, and the wavelength and power of the pump laser.
Although the electronic transitions of an isolated ion are very well defined, broadening of the energy levels occurs when the ions are incorporated into the glass of the optical fiber and thus the amplification window is also broadened. This broadening is both homogeneous (all ions exhibit the same broadened spectrum) and inhomogeneous (different ions in different glass locations exhibit different spectra). Homogeneous broadening arises from the interactions with phonons of the glass, while inhomogeneous broadening is caused by differences in the glass sites where different ions are hosted. Different sites expose ions to different local electric fields, which shifts the energy levels via the Stark effect. In addition, the Stark effect also removes the degeneracy of energy states having the same total angular momentum (specified by the quantum number J). Thus, for example, the trivalent erbium ion (Er+3) has a ground state with J = 15/2, and in the presence of an electric field splits into J + 1/2 = 8 sublevels with slightly different energies. The first excited state has J = 13/2 and therefore a Stark manifold with 7 sublevels. Transitions from the J = 13/2 excited state to the J= 15/2 ground state are responsible for the gain at 1.5 µm wavelength. The gain spectrum of the EDFA has several peaks that are smeared by the above broadening mechanisms. The net result is a very broad spectrum (30 nm in silica, typically). The broad gain-bandwidth of fiber amplifiers make them particularly useful in wavelength-division multiplexed communications systems as a single amplifier can be utilized to amplify all signals being carried on a fiber and whose wavelengths fall within the gain window.