Superluminescent Diodes. Short overview of device operation principles and performance parameters.

Prepared by Vladimir Shidlovski, SuperlumDiodes Ltd.,  2004

Principles of SLD operation. SLD output power. SLD spectrum and coherence SLD and optical feedback Temperature performance of SLDs SLD spatial characteristics SLD reliability and lifetime. Driving of SLDs. Stability of SLD operation.
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g – modal gain. type SLD-38-HP at 820 nm spectral band. c – velocity of light. (3) g −α Pout ( L ) = hυ Π S + ( L ) = hυΠ( Rsp + where Rsp – spontaneous emission rate into guided mode. It is seen that net gain G = exp((g. In every SLD two counterpropagating beams of amplified spontaneous emission are traveling along active region. The unique property of superluminescent diodes (SLD) is the combination of laser-diode-like output power and brightness with broad LED-like optical spectrum. Both photon density and current density are distributed non-uniformly along the active region. h – Plank’s constant. Fig.1 for details): S + ( z ) = Rsp exp[( g − α ) z ] − 1 /c g −α . Its design is optimized to get high output power. Light-current characteristics of SLD may be estimated by integrating the balance equation for carriers and photons: G( z ) = N/τ sp + cg( S + ( z ) + S − (z)) . It is seen from (1 – 3) that SLD power depends exponentially on optical gain and linearly on spontaneous emission rate. Evidently. Such combination is allowed by high optical gain in semiconductor laser materials and its wide optical spectrum. SLD output power. L – length of active channel. high value of modal gain is desired to obtain high output power. distribution of photon density inside SLD active region and SLD output power may be expressed as (see also Fig. υ – optical frequency. 1 shows simulated and typical light-current characteristic of 50 mW free-space/20 mW SM fiber output SLD of Superlum Diodes. Let us discuss some numerical estimation for “typical” superluminscent diodes. (2 ) g −α exp[( g − α )L ] − 1 ) / c .α )L) = 28 dB is realized at 180 mA and 30 dB gain is realized at 250 mA when SLD free space output power reaches 50 mW. Π – size of optical mode. In terms of output power. Any “ideal” SLD is optimized traveling wave laser diode amplifier with zero reflections from the ends of active channel. By using such a model and considering zero reflections from the ends of active channel. 1 also shows calculated distribution of photon density and current density (using eq. Estimations also show that modal gain in SLD is at least two times higher than threshold modal gain in laser diodes. . α – non-resonant optical losses. Fig. SLD performance may be described relatively well by simple model that does not take into account spectral effects and considers uniform distribution of carriers’ density in SLD active region. (4) (τsp is spontaneous lifetime) over z (z-axis is directed along active channel). (4)) inside the active region at 180 mA SLD current and 30 mW free space power (about 10 mW SM fiber coupled power).(1) S − ( z ) = Rsp exp[( g − α )( L − z )] − 1 / c .Principles of SLD operation.

added by very high value of optical gain.00E+014 7 Distribution of photons inside of active region in SLD-38-MP at 5 mW free-space power.This specific. SLD direct current.00E+000 0.homogeneous distribution. Main differences of SLD with respect to laser diodes are: much higher gain.8 1.8 1.1. mA length. kA/cm 5 2 4 3 2 Distribution of current density in SLD-38-HP active region( red ). There is no need for very high net gain to get 5-7 mW SLD output.0 0. 140 mA current current density.6 0.00E+015 Free-space power. length. dB 45 40 35 30 25 S (z) Distribution of photons inside of active region in SLD-38-HP at 30 mW free-space power.2 0. cm 20 -3 0.8 1.8 1. net gain. results in some specific features of SLD as light emitters.2 0. a. mW.u. net gain.50E+014 Photon density. and this allows to optimize SLD design also by “price-to-performance” figure . 30 mW power. much higher current density and very much stronger non-uniformity of photons and driving current distribution inside the active region. Net gain. blue . mA 7.u. kA/cm 2 6 5 4 3. 180 mA current.00E+000 0.4 0. same total SLD current -3 2 1 0. a. 5 mW power.0 Photon density.4 0.6 0. same total SLD current 1 0 0.2 0.0 SLD direct current.0 length. type SLD-38-MP.00E+015 15 10 5 0 0 50 100 150 200 250 0. 140 mA current. Fig.homogeneous distribution. 50 z SLD-38-HP high-power SLD at 820 nm Simulated and typical light-current characteristic ( red ) Net gain ( blue ) 4.4 0.6 0. a.u.0 0. blue .u. also shows the other example of simulated and “typical” performance of medium-power 820 nm SLD of Superlum Diodes. a.6 0.0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 length. 180 mA current + S (z) - Pout 2.0 0 0. 7 24 6 Free space power. dB 22 20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 0 SLD-38-MP medium-power SLD at 820 nm Simulated and typical light-current characteristic ( red ) and net gain ( blue ) current density.2 0.4 0. Fig. cm 3 Distribution of current density in SLD-38-MP active region( red ).0 0. light-current characteristics and distribution of photon density and driving rate density in high-power SLD-38-HP and medium-power SLD-38-MP. . mW. 1.

SLD spectrum width is determined by optical gain spectrum width. The use of MQW structures at 1500 nm band allows spectral broadening from 40 nm to more than 100 nm. When bulk heterostructures are used for SLD. ∆λ is FWHM spectrum width. When net gain reaches 30 dB gain (at 30 mW free space power). however. where λ is central wavelength. value of RoutRback must be as small as 10-10 to keep m at 2% peak-to-peak. Fig. which is always expressed in terms of Full Width at Half Maximum (FWHM). of course. amplitude of residual Fabry-Perot modulation may be expressed as : m = 2G(RoutRback)1/2 . central wavelength) are : Spectrum width. 2 shows an example of SLD spectrum broadening by QW/MQW heterostructures at 820 nm: spectrum is broadened by two times from 20 nm in SLD-38 to 45-50 nm in SLD-37 (both products commercially available from Superlum).66 for Gaussian spectrum). in one SLD residual spectral modulation of 1% is obtained only around the top of spectrum. Finally. (4) were Rout and Rback are residual reflections from the ends of active channel.SLD spectrum and coherence There is number of parameters describing SLD spectral properties. and may be expressed as : Lc=k(λ2/∆λ). If. . SLD spectrum looks bell-like but is usually slightly asymmetric.32 for Lorentzian and 0. to any reason. Secondary subpeak intensity is determined by “integral” value of Fabry-Perot modulation across entire spectrum. and k is coefficient which depends on spectrum form-factor (particularly. the second SLD will have much higher secondary coherence subpeak. The reason for this is that SLD parasitic spectral modulation is usually characterized around the top of spectrum where the modulation depth reaches its maximum value. it may differ considerably (by the order of magnitude and even more) in SLDs with the same Fabry-Perot modulation index. Residual FabryPerot modulation results in parasitic subpeak in coherence function at the optical path difference at distance equal to 2n*La were n* is effective refractive index for optical mode and La is length of SLD. It must be pointed out that coherence length is key SLD characteristic in a great number of low-coherence interferometry applications. it is 0. it is also necessary to count for so-called “secondary coherence effects”. Intensity of such “secondary subpeak” is determined by spectral modulation depth. but sometimes result in additional spectral distortions. QuantumWell (QW) and Multiple QW (MQW) heterostructures allow to broaden SLD spectrum. Parasitic Fabry-Perot modulation appears due to residual reflections from SLD crystal facets. SLD coherence length is determined by FWHM of SLD spectrum. but exists across entire spectrum in other. In case of low residual spectral modulation depth. which characterizes parasitic Fabry-Perot modulation due to non-zero reflections from SLD facets. Residual spectral modulation. spectrum width determines so-called coherence length. but the main of them (excluding.

m m 0 coherence function. a.0 S pectral broadening by Q W /M Q W structures : red . Fig. C o h e r e n c e f u n c tio n . 1. S id e lo b e s a p p e a r s d u e to s lig h t a s y m m e tr y o f s p e c tr u m coherence function.2 0.5 o p tic a l p a t h d iffe r e n c e . C o h e r e n c e f u n c tio n . 20log scale -2 0 -4 0 -6 0 -8 0 -0 .0 760 780 800 820 840 860 880 900 w avelength. 2. 0.M Q W S LD -37 relative spectral density.0 0 .5 0 .bulk S LD -38 blue . dB S L D -3 8 a t 8 2 0 n m .As an example of spectral and coherence properties of SLDs.P e r o t m o d u la t io n -2 0 -4 0 -6 0 -8 0 -1 0 -5 0 5 10 o p t ic a l p a th d iff e r e n c e . m m Fig.u. 2 also represents spectrum and coherence function for SLD-381 diode with 22 nm spectrum FWHM and 1% residual FabryPerot modulation depth. 20log scale.6 0.4 0. Examples of SLD spectra and coherence functions . Autocorrelation maximum is disturbed by some sidelobes due to asymmetric SLD spectrum. nm 0 S L D -3 8 a t 8 2 0 n m .8 0. S e c o n d a ry s u b p e a k s d u e t o r e s id u a l F a b r y .

However.2 0. 3 also shows some feedback calculations for “medium-power” SLD-38-MP2 SLDs at 820 nm.0 0. mA SLD direct current. In such SLD gain is less saturated. length. kA/cm 2 5 4 3 2 1 0 0.2%. 1% feedback red : back facet. kA/cm 2 current density. back facet 5% 100 10 free. If gain is close to saturated value.0 0. it may also affect stability and reliability of device. Fig. blue . 5 % feedback 0. 1 % optical feedback blue . 30 mW. red . . Feedback effects in high-power and low-power SLDs.4 0. Simple estimation shows that in case of 30 dB gain even 1% feedback will result in 10 times more photons on back SLD facet with respect to “feedback-free” operation.8 1.8 1. 0. blue : output. Re-distribution of driving current across the active region may degrade device lifetime. a. In fact. It is seen that even 1% of feedback deteriorates performance of high-power SLD very strongly : this may be the reason for fatal device failure due to Catastrophic Optical Damage of SLD facet (820 nm structures are known for relatively low COD.2 % 5 50 5% 0 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 0 0 50 100 150 200 250 SLD direct current.5% and 0. and the impact of feedback on output power is not so serious as in HP diodes. mA 8 7 6 8 Re-distribution of current density in SLD-38-HP active region.6 0.2 0. 3 shows calculated light-current characteristics of different SLD in case of different optical feedback.2% (squares ) output. this will result in decreased SLD output power. mW Free space power. 140 mA red . SLD sensitivity to feedback depends strongly on SLD SLD current.4 0. Evidently. 1% feedback 15 Feedback effects in medium power SLD SLD-38-MP at 820 nm : black . Fig.5% and 0. Fig. too.0 length. any returned light will be amplified in SLD active region.0 5 4 3 2 1 0 Re-distribution of driving rate in SLD-38-MP active region.2% feedback corresponds to typical feedback coefficient in case of normal-cleaved singlemode fiber. 1 % feedback 7 6 current density.same SLD current. 5 mW. 3. 180 mA red . mW Calculated Light-current characteristic of SLD-38-HP in case of 1% optical feedback : black : feedback-free. 200 20 150 Free space output power. 5 % optical feedback blue .SLD and optical feedback Extremely high optical gain in active region results in very high sensitivity of SLD to external optical feedback. note for 10 mW singlemode fiber coupled SLD-381-HP module 1% optical reason back to SLD active region means just 4% backreflection from normal-cleaved fiber end).u.u.6 0.

power of 680 nm SLD degrades by 10 times when SLD temperature changes from +25 °C to +50 °C (see Fig. too. SLD far field may be described as “crescent-like” laser diode far field. However. mW SLD-26-HP at 680 nm Power vs temeprature 20 15 10 5 0 15 20 25 30 35 40 45 50 55 SLD central wavelength and spectrum width also change with ambient. degC SLD spatial characteristics Most of SLDs emit at single transverse mode. This problem is mostly serious at 680 nm band and at 1300 nm and 1550 nm bands. 5. Fig. For example. 30 25 Free space power. Single spatial mode emission allows high coupling efficiency to singlemode fiber: 20 – 40% coupling efficiency may be obtained by the use of spherical microlens on the fiber end. This is hard to describe these changes shortly because they depend on driving mode (constant current or constant power). increasing of SLD current cannot be used for compensation of power decreasing with temperature because this will reduce SLD lifetime significantly. Due to high current density. SLD structure (bulk or QW or MQW ) and a number of other parameters. The example is shown on Fig. as tilting of waveguide is one of mostly common approach to reduce reflections from output facets. 5.4). Due to this and due to exponential dependence of SLD power on gain.Temperature performance of SLDs Optical gain in semiconductors depends strongly on temperature. SLD power depends strongly on temperature. We would recommend contacting us for more details for each particular type of SLD. and it may be increased up to 60-70% by the use of cylindrical microlens. . were optical gain dependence on temperature is really very strong. ambient T.

Latent damage nearby crystal facet. The reason for this is non-uniform distribution of driving current inside the active region of SLD.ilxlightwave. which require even more careful use of these devices (with respect to laser diode): Current “spike” damages SLD ”much easier” than laser diode. unfortunately there is not too much data about this phenomenon in The “quality of use” combines both workmanship on SLD and its driving. and there are SLDs which have it 3:1 ratio. So-called 1/f-noise also exists in SLD. negative voltages. there are some SLDs with TE/TM polarization ratio > 50:1. SLD modulation Usually. SLD reliability and lifetime. Stability of SLD operation. Inc. overdriving by spikes/surges. the higher its fraction flows near crystal facet. with Relative Intensity Noise (RIN) value exceeding short noise (2eI. It usually dominates over white noise component starting 10 kHz or less. Lifetime of any light source is always determined by two key factors: natural lifetime and quality of its use.photocurrent) by about 30 dB for “mostly typical” SLD with output power 3 – 5 mW or high. all SLD are to the same extent sensitive to electrostatic discharges. RIN value does not depend on power strongly and ranges from -120 dB/Hz to -140 dB/Hz in different types of SLDs. or are depolarized (even when very powerful). and this will additionally force probability of damage with respect to laser diodes. Therefore. and suppliers do not care too much about their modulation bandwidth. The higher is SLD current. I . overheating. being the reason for extra reflection. may not effect SLD power considerably but may strongly increase SLD spectral ripple and makes device non-useable. e . Driving of SLDs. this is not the common rule. At least the same safety measures must be obtained to drive SLD as that for laser diodes. In practice.. but which reduce lifetime to 1000 – 2000 h hours. SLD are intended for use as CW light sources. we would like to point out two main distinctive features of SLD. the last are excellently described by ILX Lightwave. One of mostly dangerous problem is the problem of “latent damages” which are hardly seen at first sight (performance parameters are practically unchanged after such damage).SLD polarization Polarization of SLD emitters depend strongly on their structure. and all associated literature may be requested directly from ILX (www. However.elementary charge. current spike will mainly flow through the areas nearby crystal facet. it should be possible to modulate directly any SLD emitter up to 100 MHz without considerable problems. Being a kind of laser diodes. etc. . SLD noise SLD noise spectrum is white (at least starting 100 kHz). However.

backpropagated power is below COD level.e. 3 above). SLD lifetime is 2 – 3 times less than lifetime of “similar” (in terms of output power laser diodes) : for example. lifetime of laser diodes is known to be dependent on driving density.. Unfortunately. the impact of high driving current density on SLD lifetime reduction with respect to Laser Diodes shall be less. due to re-distribution of driving (see Fig.Non-uniform distribution of driving in SLD active region may speed-up degradation. “LD-like” approach is not correct because of at least two differences between SLD and LD: . at least accordingly to our analysis of available SLD literature. parasitic feedback in range of 1% effects its performance but does not effect their lifetime (at least in most of cases). including both quality of temperature stabilization and SLD driving current stabilization. Accordingly with published data. It depends strongly on SLD material and design. Currently. However. especially if SLD is powerful. nor activation energies and other important parameters are studied well enough for SLD. single-transverse-mode. the matter of SLD lifetime is still investigated not well enough.- Minor optical feedback may easily result in fatal SLD damage. However. In laser diodes.SLD are driven by considerably higher current. internal project is carried out at Superlum. Neither statistics of failures. . being a kind of laser diodes. In SLDs based on quaternary InGaAsP heterostructures (1300 – 1600 nm range). as well as on SLD operation mode. In addition. Natural lifetime is intrinsic property of SLD. SLD output is not affected seriously. Short term stability of SLD operation is determined mainly by driving. Copyright  2004. SuperlumDiodes Ltd. SLD shall have the same lifetime as “the same” (i. some “second-order” effects shall be taken into account. One of the main reasons for this was a kind of common belief that. and this may decrease SLD lifetime. 100 000 h Medium Time To Failure (MTTF) was obtained in medium-power SLDs at 820 nm with 3 – 5 mW free space output power. effective driving density near back SLD facet is 20% higher with respect to feedbackfree operation. and in some structures (like AlGaAs for 780-850 nm wavelength) driving density is the key lifetime limiting factor. All Rights Reserved . Let us consider medium power 820 nm SLD running at 5% feedback. same-power-rated) LD. unless ≥ 200 000 h MTTF was expected from “similar” 820 nm laser diodes.

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