Optics Express

Modulator figure of merit for short reach data links

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The traditional Mach-Zehnder modulator (MZM) figure of merit (FOM) has been defined as (Vπ2)/υ3dBe, and works effectively for LiNbO3 long haul modulators. However, for plasma dispersion based electro-optic modulators, or any modulator that has an inherent relationship between its bandwidth, required drive voltage, and optical insertion loss/gain, this FOM is inappropriate. This is particularly true for short reach links with no optical amplification. In the following, we propose a new modulator FOM (M-FOM) based on device metrics that are essential for short-reach links, such as the peak-to-peak drive voltage, modulator rise-fall time, and relative optical modulation amplitude. Link sensitivity measurements from two MZMs that have different bandwidths and optical losses are compared using our M-FOM to demonstrate its utility. Furthermore, we present a novel application protocol of our M-FOM to provide deeper insight into the relative system impact that modulator performance has on data links with no optical amplification, by taking the ratio of M-FOMs from two modulators driven with the same radio frequency drive power.