In order to adapt to the dynamics in the future optical networks, we propose a flexible high-order QAM transmitter using a tandem in-phase/quadrature (IQ) modulators to synthesize different high-order quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM) formats, such as 16QAM, 32 or 36QAM and 64QAM. To generate high-order QAMs, an offset-QAM is firstly generated using an IQ modulator driven by electronics with reduced modulation-level, and then mapped to other quadrants through another following IQ modulator configured as a standard quadrature phase-shift keying (QPSK) modulator. All of the embedded sub-Mach-Zehnder modulators are operated in push-pull configurations to avoid introducing excess phase chirp. In contrast with the schemes based on a single IQ modulator driven by multilevel electronics or a highly-integrated parallel modulator, by deploying commercially-available optical modulators and driving electronics with reduced modulation-level, the transmitter complexity in optics and electronics is well-balanced. In the case of generating optical 64QAM, different from another tandem scheme deploying dual-drive IQ modulator driven by independent four binary streams, less phase chirp is observed in our proposed scheme, and comparable implementation penalty is obtained even without applying additional specific compensation algorithm in the coherent receiver. Moreover, thanks to the tandem structure and the deployment of QPSK modulator, the obtained high-order QAM is naturally differentially coded, which is helpful to solve the phase ambiguity at coherent receiver. We experimentally demonstrate the generations of these high-order QAMs including 16QAM, 32/36QAM and 64QAM, and confirm the error-free operations with comparable BER performance to the “electrical” approach based on a single IQ modulator.
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