This paper presents an analysis of optical buffers based on slow-light optical delay lines. The focus of this paper is on slow-light delay lines in which the group velocity is reduced using linear processes, including electromagnetically induced transparency (EIT), population oscillations (POs), and microresonator-based photonic-crystal (PC) filters. We also consider slow-light delay lines in which the group velocity is reduced by an adiabatic process of bandwidth compression. A framework is developed for comparing these techniques and identifying fundamental physical limitations of linear slow-light technologies. It is shown that slow-light delay lines have limited capacity and delay-bandwidth product. In principle, the group velocity in slow-light delay lines can be made to approach zero. But very slow group velocity always comes at the cost of very low bandwidth or throughput. In many applications, miniaturization of the delay line is an important consideration. For all delay-line buffers, the minimum physical size of the buffer for a given number of buffered data bits is ultimately limited by the physical size of each stored bit. We show that in slow-light optical buffers, the minimum achievable size of 1 b is approximately equal to the wavelength of light in the buffer. We also compare the capabilities and limitations of a range of delay-line buffers, investigate the impact of waveguide losses on the buffer capacity, and look at the applicability of slow-light delay lines in a number of applications.
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