We propose a rate-adaptive optical transmission scheme using variable-rate forward error correction (FEC) codes and variable-size constellations at a fixed symbol rate, quantifying how achievable bit rates vary with distance. The scheme uses serially concatenated Reed–Solomon codes and an inner repetition code to vary the code rate, combined with single-carrier polarization-multiplexed <i>M</i>-ary quadrature amplitude modulation with variable <i>M</i> and digital coherent detection. Employing <i>M</i> = 4, 8, 16, the scheme achieves a maximum bit rate of 200 Gb/s in a nominal 50-GHz channel bandwidth. A rate adaptation algorithm uses the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) or the FEC decoder input bit-error ratio (BER) estimated by a receiver to determine the FEC code rate and constellation size that maximizes the information bit rate while yielding a target FEC decoder output BER and a specified SNR margin. We simulate single-channel transmission through long-haul fiber systems with or without inline chromatic dispersion compensation, incorporating numerous optical switches, evaluating the impact of fiber nonlinearity and bandwidth narrowing. With zero SNR margin, we achieve bit rates of 200/100/50 Gb/s over distances of 640/2080/3040 km and 1120/3760/5440 km in dispersion-compensated and dispersion-uncompensated systems, respectively. Compared to an ideal coding scheme, the proposed scheme exhibits a performance gap ranging from about 6.4 dB at 640 km to 7.6 dB at 5040 km in compensated systems, and from about 6.6 dB at 1120 km to 7.5 dB at 7600 km in uncompensated systems. We present limited simulations of three-channel transmission, showing that interchannel nonlinearities decrease achievable distances by about 10% and 7% for dispersion-compensated and dispersion-uncompensated systems, respectively.
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