Dr. Emmanuel Desurvire



VP Thales Technical Fellow and Scientific Advisor at Thales Research and Technology. Previously, he held positions at Stanford University, AT&T Bell Laboratories, Columbia University, and Alcatel.

Emmanuel Desurvire (Ph.D, Sc.D, IEEE Fellow, Alcatel-Lucent Fellow and VP Thales Technical Fellow) has obtained a M.S. degree in theoretical physics at the university of Pierre & Marie Curie in Paris, then a Ph. D. and Sc.D. in applied Physics from the University of Nice, France. His PhD Thesis concerned Germanium-doped Raman fiber amplifiers at near-infrared wavelengths in view of future telecom applications. He is currently Scientific Advisor at Thales Research & Technology (TRT), France, after having directed for five years the Physics Research Department of TRT. He has held previous positions, first as a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Ginzton Laboratories (pioneering on Raman-amplified fiber-optic delay lines and recirculating Sagnac-interferometer fiber gyroscopes); then as a Principal Investigator at AT&T Bell Laboratories, Crawford Hill Labs (where he initiated the first research of EDFA, based upon Murray Hill’s know-how in rare-Earth-doped fibers for sensors applications), as Associate Professor in Columbia University Electrical Engineering Department (where in particular, he taught the first academic courses on long-haul amplified lightwave systems; and in Alcatel, first as Head of the Submarine Transmissions Lab in the Corporate Research Center, then Project Manager of the 40Gbit/s WDM – wavelength division multiplexing development in the Optics Division, then Director of Alcatel Technical Academy.  He has authored over 200 technical publications, 39 patents, and five reference books on Erbium-Doped Fiber Amplifiers (EDFA), Global Telecommunications, and Classical/Quantum Information Theory, and he is the Founding Editor of the technical journal ‘Optical Fiber Technology’ published since 1994

For his pioneering work on EDFAs, he has received numerous recognitions including the 1994 prize of the International Commission for Optics, the 1998 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Engineering (together with David Payne), the 2005 William Streifer Scientific Achievement Award; in 2007, the IEEE/LEOS John Tyndall Award, the France’s National Council of Engineers and Scientists “Engineers of the Year” Award, and the France-Telecom Prize of (France) National Science Academy. He is also Laureate of the 2008 Millennium Technology Prize (with Payne/Giles), and of the 2011 European Inventor Award.


By the early 1980’s optical fibres were seen as the future for telecommunications. However, while their loss is low, the optical signal still fades significantly and becomes undetectable after about 100km.  Consequently, the fibre had to be terminated, the optical signal detected and converted to an electrical one.  It was then amplified in a conventional electrical amplifier before being converted back to an optical signal in another laser transmitter.  This electrical ‘repeater’ acted rather like a tollgate on a freeway and limited the transmission to one optical channel only.  It was well known that optical fibres could simultaneously carry many independent optical wavelengths (or ‘colours’) without mixing them up, a process called Wavelength Division Multiplexing, or WDM.  But the electrical repeater saw all the channels as only one optical signal and would therefore scramble them, making the signals indistinguishable. To overcome this serious drawback, a practical all-optical amplifier was needed that could maintain the integrity of each optical channel and allow the full capacity of the fibre to be exploited.

To solve this problem, in 1985 the field of rare-earth-doped fibres, with focus on the 1.55µm telecom wavelength was revived under D. Payne’s leadership at the University of Southampton. Motivated by early reports from the Southampton group, and as an expert in (Raman) optical fibre amplification, E. Desurvire initiated research on Erbium-Doped Fibre Amplifiers (EDFA) at AT&T Bell Laboratories. In 1987, these teams published the first three seminal papers on the EDFA that clearly showed its remarkable potential as a high gain booster amplifier for use in the nascent optical fibre internet.

The effect of the Southampton/Bell Labs reports, continuously expanding at a breathtaking pace then rapidly joined by the international community, were electric; work virtually stopped on all competing technologies and turned to a worldwide race to commercialise the new amplifier.  One should also recognise the key contributions made by NTT – Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation, Japan in making the EDFA into a practical reality through their work on diode pumping.

The discovery, invention and early development of practical fibre amplifiers revolutionized modern telecommunications, both in capacity (bandwidth) and global reach. The Internet could not have been deployed without the nearly one billion kms of optical fibres that today carry 99% of internet traffic. Not only did the EDFA promise to fully exploit fibre bandwidth (some 100 THz or about 500 Tbit/s coherent signalling) opening “de facto” the way to WDM, but also its energy consumption is minimal, close to the limits set by physics.

The backbone of the internet was made physically possible by transoceanic and continental fibre-optic links in which in-line EDFAs regenerate the information signals every 50-100 km, without distortion nor capacity bottleneck of the huge fibre bandwidth. In remote islands or coastal areas, special configurations of EDFA boosters and preamplifiers permit internet transmission over more than 300 km of passive fibre, thus allowing remote populations to communicate at speeds enormously greater than that of previous satellite or submarine cables.

Currently, new fibre links with EDFA repeaters are being deployed at a rate of over 400M km per year, connecting urban, suburban and village areas to the rest of the world.


On a global scale, both transcontinental and transoceanic (except for small and sparsely populated areas covered by satellites), all the way to Fibre-to-the-Home and Enterprise.  Even wireless (5G) networks depend upon local-area fiber-optic networks for access and antenna feeds. Humankind and societal, governmental, economical, security and defence, for all telecom services (public, private, corporate or restricted) provided by the World Wide Web.


The EDFA allowed the transformation of previous global networks using old-fashioned electrical repeaters by super-fast all-optical repeaters that do not require light to electrical conversion.  The EDFA is capable of boosting optical signals by as much as 10,000 times with a capacity of 200 Tbit/s in a single fibre strand. Without the EDFA, the Internet would have been limited to some 40-100 Gbit/s cable capacity between continents, leading to a horrendous or unaffordable Worldwide Wait! Despite being 35 years old, no technology is yet in sight that can compete with the EDFA. The WWW has transformed both society and the economy, from TCP/IP to upper service layers such as email, attachments, clouds, data centers, web pages and web services. None of this would be possible without the EDFA that is essential to the hardware that transports the internet. Today, new optical fibre links are being deployed worldwide at an annual rate in excess of 400 million kilometers – twenty times the speed of sound! And each year the WWW transmits nearly 5,000 Petabytes (5 million Gigabytes) that traverses the EDFA every 50-100 km of any fibre path.



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