A proposed method of suppressing the effect of background noise in an optical communication system would exploit the transmission and reception of correlated photons at the receiver. The method would not afford any advantage in a system in which performance is limited by shot noise. However, if the performance of the system is limited by background noise (e.g., sunlight in the case of a free-space optical communication system or incoherently scattered in-band photons in the case of a fiber-optic communication system), then the proposed method could offer an advantage: the proposed method would make it possible to achieve a signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) significantly greater than that of an otherwise equivalent background-noise-limited optical communication system based on the classical transmission and reception of uncorrelated photons.

The figure schematically depicts a classical optical-communication system and a system according to the proposed method. In the classical system, a modulated laser beam is transmitted along an optical path to a receiver, the optics of which include a narrow-band-pass filter that suppresses some of the background noise. A photodetector in the receiver detects the laser-beam and background photons, most or all of which are uncorrelated.

Pairs of Correlated Photons would be generated at the transmitter and preferentially detected at the receiver in the proposed system.

In the proposed system, correlated photons would be generated at the transmitter by making a modulated laser beam pass through a nonlinear parametric down-conversion crystal. The sum of frequencies of the correlated photons in each pair would equal the frequency of the incident photon from which they were generated. As in the classical system, the correlated photons would travel along an optical path to a receiver, where they would be band-pass filtered and detected. Unlike in the classical system, the photodetector in the receiver in this system would be one that intrinsically favors the detection of pairs of correlated photons over the detection of uncorrelated photons. Even though there would be no way of knowing the precise location and time of creation of a given pair of correlated signal photons in the nonlinear down-conversion crystal, the fact that the photons are necessarily created at the same time and place makes it possible to utilize conventional geometrical imaging optics to reunite the photons in coincidence in the receiving photodetector.

Because most or all of the signal photons would be correlated while most or all of the noise photons would be uncorrelated, the S/N would be correspondingly enhanced in the photodetector output. An additional advantage to be gained by use of a correlated-photon detector is that it could be capable of recovering the signal even in the presence of background light so bright that a classical uncorrelated-photon detector would be saturated.

A blocked-impurity-band (BIB) photodetector that preferentially detects pairs of correlated photons over uncorrelated ones and that operates at a quantum efficiency of 88 percent is commercially available. This detector must be cooled to the temperature of liquid helium to obtain the desired low-noise performance. It is planned to use this detector in a proof-of-principle demonstration. In addition, it may be possible to develop GaN-based photodetectors that could offer the desired low-noise performance at room temperature.

This work was done by Deborah Jackson, George Hockney, and Jonathan Dowling of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NPO-30633