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Olivier Plomteux, Sr. Product Manager

Tunable laser diodes (LDs), whether widely or narrowly tunable, are being deployed and will surely replace the fixed-wavelength DFB-type LDs
that have been used for years in WDM links of few kilometers and beyond. The use of tunable devices for reducing inventory is the prime
interest at the present time, but they also serve as an agile backup in case of an ITU grid transmitter failure. In the future, the availability of
all-optical switching will most probably cause these devices to be widely used.

Another important aspect that affects both tunable and fixed laser modules is the increasing channel density. From a spacing of 100 GHz to
50 GHz, or less, frequency stabilization is a must in order to compensate for factors that shift laser-diode frequency such as chip temperature,
laser-diode module case temperature, bias current and device aging.

Wavelength-locking devices are, therefore, commercialized to act as relative references. If built in such a way that they remain insensitive to
changes in temperature, a laser (DFB, DBR or any other type) can be maintained at a desired ITU point for its entire lifetime, on two conditions:
first, the temperature regulation has to maintain device temperature at a stable point throughout its lifespan; second, the initial locked
wavelength position must be accurate enough from the very beginning. These devices work mainly as multiwavelength lockers and are based
on Fabry-Perot etalons, which offer wide and repeated peaks occurring at every free spectral range (FSR) of the etalon. If one peak can be
tuned so that its slope can be positioned close to the ITU point, a laser can be level-locked either through laser temperature, current or another
actuator such as a micro-electro-mechanical device (MEM).

This application note explains how the use of EXFO’s DFL-5720 Digital Frequency-Locking System can simplify the implementation of a
closed-loop process required for blocking a test laser frequency to perform alignments, tests and stability verification.

Locking Laser Signals with a Fabry-Perot Etalon Filter

Light intensity transmission through an ideal (loss-free) Fabry-Perot etalon filter varies according to the etalon’s finesse.

Mathematically, this is expressed as follows:


1 + F • sin2
( λ n dcosq

Where F is the etalon Finesse, which determines the sharpness of a transmission peak and how the out-of-phase interference condition limits
the transmission. Finesse is determined by the etalon facets’ reflection coefficient. The condition for maximum transmission occurs when
the sin2 term equals zero, corresponding to a phase-shift of one pass through the material that equals a multiple of π.
Telecommunications Test and Measurement
Application Note 083


Frequency (THz)

Figure 1: Typical response, in linear units, of a 2-mm Fabry-Perot etalon (width at normal incidence), producing a filter with 50 GHz spacing.
Example provided for two different Finesses showing different slopes and sharpness. Loss at the peak is neglected. This type of filter allows
laser locking at either peak or edge positions, using the appropriate closed-loop circuitry.

By varying either the index of refraction (n), the distance between facets (d) or the angular position of the incoming beam relative to the parallel
facets (θ), one can change the peak’s position so that an edge of the filter corresponds to the ITU point or to the desired locking point.
The index of refraction is temperature-dependent; in optical modules only containing a wavelength-locking device, this might be a simple way
to correct or adjust the position of the Fabry-Perot peaks. A commercial solid FP etalon typically has a peak frequency temperature sensitivity
of –1 GHz/°C. In the case of wavelength-locker components that are integrated into a module with the laser diode, the angular tuning may
be used to achieve both the desired position for the peaks and a small level of backreflection.

Signal Frequency

Figure 2: Effect of detuning the Fabry-Perot etalon by 0.5° from normal incidence; in this example, obtained shift is about 8 GHz.
The gray zone indicates the ITU-T grid point. The 0.5° tuning generates a slope of about 7 %/GHz, which is enough to produce a
low-noise measurable intensity fluctuation if the laser is shifted by 100 MHz or so.
Telecommunications Test and Measurement
Application Note 083

The angular position of the Fabry-Perot etalon relative to the incoming beam is the most sensitive parameter in order to obtain the desired
comb position and spacing. A change in angle modifies both free spectral range and peak positions, which shift toward a larger frequency
(lower wavelength) as the angle is increased.

Figure 3: FSR and peak central-frequency shift as a function of angular detuning from normal incidence for a 2-mm, 50-GHz spacing, FP etalon.
The FSR shift, even if small in comparison with the normal incidence FSR, can create important peak errors if the etalon has to be used over a large
frequency range. For example, a 0.1 % shift in FSR is only 0.05 GHz absolute shift but after 50 nm, it will cause a peak shift of more than 6 GHz.

Laser-diode injection current and submount temperature are typically used to shift its emission wavelength. Respective amounts are typically
5 pm/mA and 0.1 nm/°C. But both temperature and current affect power emitted by the device. Most locking processes require that the signal
through the optical filter to be normalized against the laser-diode output power, which is likely to vary with a change in wavelength.
By doing so, one will obtain a pure wavelength discrimination, insensitive to laser output-power variation.

Normalized ITU Target level for

Output Power signal Point locking

Filter output

Figure 4: Filter transmission curve if affected by power shift of the laser to be locked. Normalization, which is the ratio of the signal
read through the filter to the signal proportional to output power, is a must to ensure accurate frequency locking.
Telecommunications Test and Measurement
Application Note 083

Locking can be achieved within a capturing range that is limited by points on opposite slopes of the normalized signal, both of which are
located at the same level as the target level (see above figure). A laser initially taken within this range (typically ± 12.5 GHz from target) can,
within a few ms, be locked at the desired point.

DFL-5720 Digital Frequency-Locking System Functionality

The DFL-5720 provides a design and test tool that simplifies the locking of a laser to a frequency discriminator such as a slope, a peak or the
intersection of two slopes of opposite signs. A wavelength locker consisting of a Fabry-Perot etalon is a typical example of a frequency
discriminator. The DFL-5720’s numerous functionalities allow a wavelength locker to be tested in any condition.

Laser Locked-λ
Filter and
[mA or V] Input currents [mA]


Figure 5: A wavelength locker typically provides two or more photocurrents, monitoring either wavelength, power or both.
These monitor signals are digitized and processed by the control electronics (DFL). Input and error signals are updated in
real time in order for fine-tuning of the locking process.

The DFL-5720 can lock the frequency of a laser source by using different strategies. The easiest way to perform a frequency-locking operation
is by maintaining the power transmitted through the optical filter at a fixed level. This method uses a simple-level locking system on the left or
on the right side of the transmission peak. The second strategy is called peak locking, which allows locking at the maximum or minimum point
of a peak by using standard-frequency dithering and synchronous-detection techniques. The third strategy is a crosspoint locking, in which
the laser is locked at the intersection of the response of two filters.

Peak- Edge- Crosspoint

Sychronous Level Locking Mathematical-Level
Detection Locking

Figure 6: DFL-5720 supports different locking modes. Peak locking is a quick and highly stable way to lock a laser onto a peak
or dip of a discriminator. Edge- or slope-locking is commonly used in wavelength lockers containing a reference power monitor
and a Fabry-Perot filter. Crosspoint locking can be used for designs integrating two FP filters and allows coverage of the entire
range, without any missing zone for capturing the locked signal.
Telecommunications Test and Measurement
Application Note 083

In addition to being a laser frequency-locking system, the DFL-5720 is also a visualization system that allows the user to display the
transmission pattern of the filter by sweeping the frequency of the laser with a voltage ramp. The user can, therefore, scroll through the
transmission pattern and select which edge or peak to lock onto. This unit is used very much like a standard oscilloscope, with the added
advantage that the ramp generator is always synchronized with the display.

Figure 7: Real-time display of the error signal is an efficient and secure way to observe the robustness and stability of the locked signals.
Loop-filter (digital integrator) integrator gain can be adjusted and its effect can be readily seen on the display.

The DFL-5720 internal waveform generator allows the user to apply a small AC modulation above or under the DC signal controlling the laser
frequency. The frequency and amplitude of this modulation are programmable. The weak modulation signal, after passing through the optical
filter, is amplified by the DFL AC input amplifier. By synchronous detection (also called lock-in amplification), a DC signal proportional to the
detected AC signal at the lock-in frequency is generated. The DC signal is generated by a 500-Hz cutoff-frequency low-pass filter. The lock-
in amplifier supports phase detection fine-tuning and higher harmonic-detection capability.

Figure 8: The DFL-5720 supports first-order and higher harmonic synchronous detection with fine-tuning of the detection phase,
as well as AC signal amplitude and frequency. The third harmonic detection is used to remove the linear content in the transmission
function (such that power shifts with frequency). On the other hand, the first harmonic detection provides better sensitivity in its
detection and is less sensitive to distortion in the generated sinusoidal waveform.
Telecommunications Test and Measurement
Application Note 083

Application to Wavelength Lockers

Temperature-Sensitivity Qualification

Whether at the filter level, subassembly or final module testing, the influence of temperature on wavelength-locker reference frequencies is
crucial since transmitters equipped with these devices will most likely operate in an environment with wide temperature variation.

We propose a simple and accurate way to qualify this specification by using the DFL in peak-locking mode with a low-cost DFB as the tunable
laser and an accurate wavelength meter (2-pm resolution) based on FFT Michelson interferometry (e.g., IQS-5320).

The setup consists of using DFB drive current as a frequency actuator, which provides a typical sensitivity of 5 pm/mA. After scanning the
frequency with the DFL-5720 over one or more peaks of the Fabry-Perot filter and measuring filter response, locking can be performed on a
selected peak. Locking time depends on the initial error value and on the integral gain (adjustable from 0.01s-1 and 106s-1). The lock-in amplifier,
with its fixed 500-Hz low-pass frequency filter, provides a DC error signal, proportional to the frequency shift from the peak. The locking
frequency can be tuned from 1 kHz to 2 kHz, i.e., about 10 times slower than the DFL’s input and output sampling rates, which normally run
at 19 kHz.

Once locked onto the peak, temperature can be cycled up and down at fast or slow rates, and peak wavelength can be monitored with a 2-
pm resolution and 3-pm accuracy at a rate of once per second. Error and input signals can be monitored through the Ethernet remote-control
port so that the entire signal history can be logged for future analysis once the test has been completed.

The same test can be performed using level-locking instead of peak-locking but we believe peak-locking provides a higher confidence in the
real wavelength-shift of the filter.

IQS-5320 or
Cooling/heating 50/50 WA-1650
holder Splitter Wavelength

Laser Driver
Analog In

Figure 9: DFL-5720 can lock a standard DFB onto one peak of the etalon under test (DUT) using laser drive current as an actuator.
The optical frequency of the signal is measured with a high-resolution wavelength meter as temperature of DUT is varied.

Also note that the FFT Michelson interferometer method for measuring peak wavelength will isolate the main carrier frequency from the
sidebands produced by the 1-kHz amplitude dither modulation. Finally, the EXFO WA-1650 Wavemeter™ model offers an absolute accuracy
of 0.3 pm and a resolution of 0.2 pm.
Telecommunications Test and Measurement
Application Note 083

Tuning Assemblies to an Exact Wavelength

When tuning assemblies, total process time is critical so we suggest using the fringe-counting technique for measuring of signal wavelength.
This approach can measure central wavelength with high precision at an updated rate of 10 Hz (see EXFO WA-1100 Wavemeter™
specifications). Since fringe counting is sensitive to amplitude modulation in the signal, we use level locking (DC signals) to lock onto filter’s
positive or negative slope.

As we saw earlier, angle and temperature affect both the filter’s FSR and the peaks’ absolute wavelength. The setup is similar to that of the
above. The DFB can be replaced by a widely tunable source equipped with an analog input driving a piezo-actuator providing limited but
enough frequency-span to cover one ITU at a time. The wider tuning range is useful if more than one peak has to be tested once the reference
peak reaches the target frequency.

Optional IQS-5100B
Polarization Scrambler

Tunable WA-1100
Laser Wavelengt
λ Analog
from filter

monitor current

Figure 10: This setup is used for tuning the Fabry-Perot etalon filter to the desired wavelength with a widely tunable laser.
Laser frequency can be read 10 times per second with an accuracy of ± 1.5 pm, while the normalized signal out of the wavelength
locker is blocked at any desired level, on the positive or negative side of the moving Fabry-Perot peak.

In addition, a polarization scrambler such as the IQS-5100B enables a measurement of the locked wavelength’s polarization dependency.
The frequency shift is due to the change in the incoming polarization state, inducing small variation in the device’s loss and detection;
the induced frequency shift can be measured by adjusting the scrambling period to 10 seconds. This will provide 100 wavelength
measurement points while scrambling over all states of polarization. It should be noted that the activation loss of the polarization scrambler is
0.006 dB but will be compensated for by the normalization process.
Telecommunications Test and Measurement
Application Note 083

The DFL-5720 is a practical instrument that can serve wavelength-locker manufacturers and designers due to its ability to support just about
any locking configuration. The unit provides several benefits such as:

Saves time during test setup.

Is fully programmable to offer maximum flexibility.
Combines all functions into one instrument.
Offers locking and scanning modes, for a complete solution.
Provides real-time display and data acquisition, just like an oscilloscope.
Includes Ethernet remote access for PC-based operation.

In addition, the DFL-5720 can achieve a stable locking process that can be set up just like a spectrum analyzer or oscilloscope; it is
straightforward and fast.

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Appnote083.2AN © 2005 EXFO Electro-Optical Engineering Inc. All rights reserved. Printed in Canada 05/05