Properties of the wide-angle equation (WAEQ), a nonparaxial scalar wave equation used to propagate light through media characterized by inhomogeneous refractive-index profiles, are studied. In particular, it is shown that the WAEQ is not equivalent to the more complicated but more fundamental Helmholtz equation (HEQ) when the index of refraction profile depends on the position along the propagation axis. This includes all nonstraight waveguides. To study the quality of the WAEQ approximation, we present a novel method for computing solutions to the WAEQ. This method, based on a short-time iterative Lanczos (SIL) algorithm, can be applied directly to the full three-dimensional case, i.e., systems consisting of the propagation axis coordinate and two transverse coordinates. Furthermore, the SIL method avoids series-expansion procedures (e.g., Padé approximants) and thus convergence problems associated with such procedures. Detailed comparisons of solutions to the HEQ, WAEQ, and the paraxial equation (PEQ) are presented for two cases in which numerically exact solutions to the HEQ can be obtained by independent analysis, namely, (i) propagation in a uniform dielectric medium and (ii) propagation along a straight waveguide that has been tilted at an angle to the propagation axis. The quality of WAEQ and PEQ, compared with exact HEQ results, is investigated. Cases are found for which the WAEQ actually performs worse than the PEQ.
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