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What is an Optical Receiver?

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  • Written By: C.B. Fox
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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An optical receiver, sometimes called a fiber optic receiver, is a component in a fiber optic network. The role of the receiver is to translate pulses of light that are sent through optical fibers into electrical signals. Once the information is converted into electricity, the information can be read by an electronic device, such as a computer, that is attached to the network.

An optical receiver is an important component in a fiber optic network. In fiber optics, light is used to send information between electronic devices, such as two computers on a network. Cables, which are usually made of a highly reflective silica glass, are used to transmit pulses of light. The light bounces down the hollow tube of silica until it reaches the optical receiver at the other end.

The information sent down the fiber optic cable is in the form of pulses of light. These pulses are translated into electrical information by the optical receiver. This device translates the pulses of light into a series of ones and zeros, called binary code. Computers can then translate these long strands of binary into the processes seen on computer monitors.

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Pulses of light travel through fiber optic cables until they reach the photodiode on an optical receiver. A photodiode is made of a material that can lose electrons when struck by a photon moving at a certain wavelength. When the photodiode is struck by light energy, electrons are released. These electrons create very small electric charges that the optical receiver must then amplify. Once the signal has been amplified, it can be translated into electrical information in the form of a stream of digital ones and zeros.

The optical pulses sent through a fiber optic cable may vary a great degree in their energy levels. The material from which a photodiode is made determines what range of energy levels it can translate into electricity. Silicon photodiodes, for example, can receive information traveling between 190 and 1,100 electromagnetic spectrum wavelengths (nm). Lead sulfide can only receive information from photons with enough energy to travel between 1,000 and 3,500 nm.

Optical receivers can only turn optical information into electrical information. A similar device, called an optical transmitter, is used to turn electrical information into light. There is also a device called an optical transceiver which can receive and transmit optical and electrical information, translating freely between the two.

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