The analysis of many systems in optical communications and metrology utilizing Gaussian beams, such as free-space propagation from single-mode fibers, point diffraction interferometers, and interference lithography, would benefit from an accurate analytical model of Gaussian beam propagation. We present a full vector analysis of Gaussian beam propagation by using the well-known method of the angular spectrum of plane waves. A Gaussian beam is assumed to traverse a charge-free, homogeneous, isotropic, linear, and nonmagnetic dielectric medium. The angular spectrum representation, in its vector form, is applied to a problem with a Gaussian intensity boundary condition. After some mathematical manipulation, each nonzero propagating electric field component is expressed in terms of a power-series expansion. Previous analytical work derived a power series for the transverse field, where the first term (zero order) in the expansion corresponds to the usual scalar paraxial approximation. We confirm this result and derive a corresponding longitudinal power series. We show that the leading longitudinal term is comparable in magnitude with the first transverse term above the scalar paraxial term, thus indicating that a full vector theory is required when going beyond the scalar paraxial approximation. In spite of the advantages of a compact analytical formalism, enabling rapid and accurate modeling of Gaussian beam systems, this approach has a notable drawback. The higher-order terms diverge at locations that are sufficiently far from the initial boundary, yielding unphysical results. Hence any meaningful use of the expansion approach calls for a careful study of its range of applicability. By considering the transition of a Gaussian wave from the paraxial to the spherical regime, we are able to derive a simple expression for the range within which the series produce numerically satisfying answers.
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