Abstract

Germanium avalanche photodiodes (APD’s) working biased above the breakdown voltage detect single optical photons in the near-infrared wavelength range. We give guidelines for the selection of devices suitable for photon-counting applications among the commercial samples, and we discuss in detail how the devices should be operated to achieve the best performance, both in terms of noise-equivalent power (NEP) and the timing-equivalent bandwidth. We introduce the driving electronics and we show that, in the measurements of fast optical signals, the adoption of single-photon techniques is very favorable, notwithstanding that presently available photodiodes are not designed for this purpose. On the contrary, in the detection of cw signals, the lower NEP values achieved in photon counting may not be sufficient to justify the replacement of conventional analog p-i-n germanium detectors, which offer comparable performance with a definitely larger sensitive area. Finally, we show that, by properly choosing the operating conditions, some selected APD’s achieve an 85-ps time resolution in the detection of optical photons at a 1.3-μm wavelength, which corresponds to a timing-equivalent bandwidth of 1.8 GHz. To the best of our knowledge, this time resolution is the lowest reported to date for single-photon detectors in the near infrared.

© 1994 Optical Society of America

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