Survey on free space optical communication: A communication theory perspective

Mohammad Ali Khalighi, Murat Uysal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Optical wireless communication (OWC) refers to transmission in unguided propagation media through the use of optical carriers, i.e., visible, infrared (IR), and ultraviolet (UV) bands. In this survey, we focus on outdoor terrestrial OWC links which operate in near IR band. These are widely referred to as free space optical (FSO) communication in the literature. FSO systems are used for high rate communication between two fixed points over distances up to several kilometers. In comparison to radio-frequency (RF) counterparts, FSO links have a very high optical bandwidth available, allowing much higher data rates. They are appealing for a wide range of applications such as metropolitan area network (MAN) extension, local area network (LAN)-to-LAN connectivity, fiber back-up, backhaul for wireless cellular networks, disaster recovery, high definition TV and medical image/video transmission, wireless video surveillance/monitoring, and quantum key distribution among others. Despite the major advantages of FSO technology and variety of its application areas, its widespread use has been hampered by its rather disappointing link reliability particularly in long ranges due to atmospheric turbulence-induced fading and sensitivity to weather conditions. In the last five years or so, there has been a surge of interest in FSO research to address these major technical challenges. Several innovative physical layer concepts, originally introduced in the context of RF systems, such as multiple-input multiple-output communication, cooperative diversity, and adaptive transmission have been recently explored for the design of next generation FSO systems. In this paper, we present an up-to-date survey on FSO communication systems. The first part describes FSO channel models and transmitter/receiver structures. In the second part, we provide details on information theoretical limits of FSO channels and algorithmic-level system design research activities to approach these limits. Specific topics include advances in modulation, channel coding, spatial/cooperative diversity techniques, adaptive transmission, and hybrid RF/FSO systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number6844864
Pages (from-to)2231-2258
Number of pages28
JournalIEEE Communications Surveys and Tutorials
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 24 2014


  • Free-space optical (FSO) communication
  • adaptive transmission
  • channel capacity
  • channel coding
  • channel modeling
  • hybrid RF/FSO systems
  • optical modulation
  • optical wireless communication (OWC)
  • relay-assisted networks
  • spatial diversity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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