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Shallow Etch Could Power Dilute-nitride VCSEL Breakthrough

Alight Technologies is tackling the need for powerful long-wavelength, single-mode VCSELs by marrying its photonic-bandgap technology with Infineon's dilute-nitride platform. Dan Birkedal and Dirk Jessen detail the hybrid design and reveal why it will benefit datacom and telecom networks.

Multimode VCSELs operating at 850 nm are the dominant source for today s short-range datacom applications. However, despite advantages such as on-chip testing and straightforward fiber coupling, these surface-emitting devices are still to impact the longer range and higher speed datacom and telecom applications.

Infineon Technologies, Picolight and Optical Communication Products have all developed 1.3 μm VCSELs, but their single-mode output powers are limited, and this has hindered market penetration in more demanding applications. Instead, current networks are served with edge-emitting sources - either Fabry-Pérot lasers that are limited in range by modal dispersion at higher modulation frequencies, or distributed-feedback lasers that usually require an additional optical isolator.

However, recent efforts at our company, Alight Technologies, have revealed that a VCSEL s single-mode output power can be increased to fulfill the requirements of communications applications through the addition of a photonic-bandgap (PBG) structure. Our team, which is based in Copenhagen, Denmark, has made the breakthrough by combining this photonic technology with Infineon s 1.3 μm dilute-nitride VCSEL design, which we acquired late last year.

The single-mode output of a conventional VCSEL is primarily limited by the oxide aperture that confines the electrical current and the optical modes. This aperture has to be quite small (10 nm) for etch depths of only a few tens of nanometers. We have already produced 850 nm VCSELs and are now extending the method to 1.3 μm GaInNAs VCSELs (see figure 1). These lasers are produced by shallow etching a tri-diagonal array of rods into the semiconductor surface, just below the dielectric top mirror. The PBG lasing defect is formed by omitting several rods in the center of this lattice (see figure 2).

As well as increasing the cavity wavelength s sensitivity to the etch depth, our design has additional advantages resulting from the close proximity of the PBG layer to the active region. In particular, the number of DBR mirror pairs is constant over the entire structure, which means that reflectivity is high and unmodulated. Consequently, the VCSELs lateral guiding mechanisms are determined solely by local variations in wavelength or effective index, and not by loss/gain guiding. Loss guiding would increase the internal optical losses, which is highly undesirable due to the low saturated gain of the active material. Gain guiding is negligible since the index guide of the PBG is much stronger, and completely governs the cavity s optical mode. In addition, our shallow etch avoids exposure of the aluminum-rich layers to the ambient environment during processing, which simplifies manufacturing.

Our VCSELs use the dielectric top-mirror structure that featured in Infineon s highly reliable, qualified lasers produced by Steinle and colleagues. The dielectric mirrors deliver lower optical losses than DBRs due to the absence of free-carrier absorption, which improves VCSEL performance.

The VCSEL development started with the fabrication of 850 nm lasers. This work was never completed, because of a customer-driven switch to longer wavelengths, but single-mode VCSELs were produced, delivering 3-5 mW. Power levels were limited by ohmic heating, due to a non-optimized contact process, but research showed that it would be possible to construct 10 mW single-mode VCSELs.

Switching to longer wavelength VCSELs required a redesign of the PBG structure, with emphasis on low scattering losses. Initial results of the lasing characteristics for a range of temperatures are shown in figure 3. The devices exhibit single-mode behavior up to 3 mW at 20 °C, can deliver 1.4 mW single-mode power at 90 °C, and produce side-mode suppression ratios exceeding 30 dB (see figure 4).A foundry approach

We believe that it is essential to minimize the VCSELs time to market, so Alight is working with a foundry, and in close co-operation with a customer, to decrease the time taken from producing a prototype to manufacturing a qualified laser. The company understands that it is essential to establish a credible and reliable supply chain. Although prototyping is performed in a class 10 cleanroom facility in Copenhagen, parallel work at foundry partners validates our volume production processes at an early stage.

Based on the promising results that have been obtained so far, we are planning to release 2.5  Gbit/s 1.3 μm VCSELs later this year, targeting datacom and telecom access applications. However, we believe that the transition to higher speed datacom applications in local storage-area networks and optical interconnects, as well as an increased focus on fiber in telecom access networks, will drive the company s future product portfolio.

The PBG technology is generic, which means that it can be applied to VCSELs operating at various wavelengths serving many different applications. For example, high single-mode power is also attractive for sensing applications, printing, passive optical fiber networks and consumer electronics. Our company s strategy is to pursue these opportunities outside of the telecom and datacom markets through partnerships, which will further enhance the penetration of its proprietary technology.Further readingBischoff et al. 2003 Proc. ECOC 40.
Hadley 1995 Optics Lett. 20 1483.
Romstad et al. 2004 Proc ECOC 596.
Song et al. 2002 Appl. Phys. Lett. 80 3901.
Steinle et al. 2001 Proc ECTC.
Unold et al. 2001 Proc ECOC 520.

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