Tunable semiconductor lasers have been listed in numerous critical technology lists for future optical communication and sensing systems. This paper summarizes a tutorial that was given at OFC '03. It includes some discussion of why tunable lasers might be beneficial, an outline of basic tuning mechanisms,some examples of tunable lasers that have been commercialized, and a discussion of control techniques. More extensive data is given for the widely-tunable sampled-grating distributed-Bragg-reflector (SGDBR) type of laser, including data for such lasers integrated monolithically with modulators to form complete transmitter front ends. A summary of reliability data for the SGDBR laser is also given. It is concluded that tunable lasers can reduce operational costs, that full-band tunability is desirable for many applications, that monolithic integration offers the most potential for reducing size, weight,power and cost, and that sufficient reliability for system insertion has been demonstrated.
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