The modal characteristics of photonic crystal fibers (PCFs), with guiding cores consisting of one or seven missing airholes, are investigated with the finite element method and compared to those of step-index fibers (SIFs). To extend the applicability of the classical SIF theories to PCFs, the effective refractive index of photonic crystal cladding and the effective core radius of a PCF are studied systematically, based on simple physically consistent concepts. With the new effective cladding index and core radius of PCFs, the classical definition of the V parameter for SIFs is extended to PCFs, and a highly efficient approach based on the effective-index method is developed for the design of PCFs. The new design approach has been successfully employed to analyze the modal properties of PCF lasers with depressed-index cores and further tested by using it to effectively estimate the number of guided modes for PCFs with large cores.
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