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The Best Guide to the Avalanche Photodiode

Author: Apogeeweb
Date: 23 Mar 2022



Ⅰ Avalanche Photodiode Basics

1.1 Avalanche Photodiode Construction

1.2 Avalanche Photodiode Symbol

1.3 Avalanche photodiode Circuit Diagram

1.4 Working of Avalanche Photodiode

1.5 Avalanche photodiode Characteristics

1.6 Avalanche Photodiode Operation

1.7 Avalanche photodiode circuit conditions

Ⅱ Impact Ionization in Avalanche Photodiodes 

2.1 Avalanche Photodiode Diagram

2.2 Avalanche Photodiode Datasheet

2.3 Avalanche Photodiode Module

2.4 Avalanche Photodiode Array

2.5 Avalanche Photodiode Noise

Ⅲ Avalanche Photodiode vs. PIN Photodiode

3.1 Avalanche Photodiode Amplifier

3.2 Avalanche Photodiode detector

3.3 Avalanche Photodiode in Optical Fiber Communication

Ⅳ Comparison Between APD and PMT | Avalanche Photodiode vs Photomultiplier Tube

Ⅴ Advantages and Disadvantages of Avalanche Photodiode

5.1 Advantages of Avalanche Photodiode

5.2 Disadvantages of Avalanche Photodiode

Ⅵ Application of Avalanche Photodiode

Ⅶ Performance limits of the Avalanche Photodiode

7.1 Gain noise, excess noise factor

7.2 Conversion noise, Fano factor

7.3 Further influences


1. What is the Response Time of Avalanche Photodiode?

2. What Happens when you Send too much Light to an Avalanche Photodiode (APD)?

3. What is the Temperature Effect on Avalanche Gain?

4. Why does Avalanche Breakdown Increase with Temperature?

5. What is the Dark Resistance of Photodiode?

6. Where are Avalanche Diodes Used?

7. Is Photodiode Reverse Biased?

8. What are Avalanche and Zener Breakdown Phenomena?

9. What are the Modes Available in Avalanche Device?

10. What is the Difference Between PN Junction and PIN Photodiode?

11. What are the Different Types of Photodiode?

12. How do Photodetectors Work?

13. What is the Difference between Zener Diode and Avalanche Diode?

14. What is PIN Diode Used for?

15. What is the Difference between Photoresistor and Photodiode?

16. What is Avalanche Diode Mode?

17. Which Process Gives Internal Gain in an Avalanche Photodiode?



Avalanche photodiode detectors (APD) have been and will continue to be employed in a wide range of applications, including laser range finders, data transfers, and photon correlation research. This research delves into APD structures, essential performance parameters, and the excess noise factor. The designer has three primary detector options for low-light detection in the 200- to the 1150-nm range: the silicon PIN detector, the silicon avalanche photodiode (APD), and the photomultiplier tube (PMT).

You will learn from video: Avalanche Photo Diode Basics, Principle, Structure, Working, Electric Field, Advantage & Disadvantage.

 Avalanche Photodiode Basics

The avalanche photodiode is frequently employed in instrumentation and aerospace applications because they provide a combination of fast speed and high sensitivity that PIN detectors cannot match, as well as quantum efficiencies at >400 nm that PMTs cannot match.


1.1 Avalanche Photodiode Construction

Both the PIN photodiode and the Avalanche photodiode are built in the same way. This diode has two substantially doped areas and two mildly doped sections. In this case, substantially doped regions are P+ and N+, while mildly doped parts are I and P.

Avalanche Photodiode Construction


In the intrinsic area, the depletion layer width in this diode is noticeably thinner than in the PIN photodiode. In this case, the p+ zone serves as the anode, while the n+ region serves as the cathode.

When compared to other photodiodes, this diode operates with a strong reverse bias. As a result, the charge carriers generated by the light hit or photon can be multiplied in an avalanche. The avalanche activity allows the photodiode's gain to be increased numerous times to provide a wide range of sensitivity.

1.2 Avalanche Photodiode Symbol



The avalanche photodiode symbol is the same as the Zener diode symbol.


1.3 Avalanche Photodiode Circuit Diagram

For reverse bias situations, connect the p+ area to the negative terminal and the n+ region to the positive terminal of the battery.


1.4 Working of Avalanche Photodiode

Avalanche photodiode working principle

APDs have a quantum efficiency greater than one (10 to 100), which is m times more than a standard PIN Photodiode, where ‘m’ is the multiplication factor or gain factor (10-500).


  • When a diode is subjected to a high reverse voltage, it undergoes avalanche breakdown.
  • The electric field across the depletion layer is increased by the reverse bias voltage.
  • Incident light enters the p+ area and is absorbed further in the very resistive p zone. Electron-hole pairs are formed here.
  • The separation of these couples is caused by a significantly smaller electric field. Electrons and holes move with their saturation velocity towards the pn+ region, which has a strong electric field.
  • As the velocity increases, the carriers clash with other atoms, resulting in the formation of new electron-hole pairs. A strong photocurrent is produced by a large number of e-h couples.

Avalanche Photodiode applies relatively high (about 20v) reversed biased or reversed voltages to the photodiode, accelerating electrons with high energy. These electrons and holes collide with the neutral atoms, separating them from the other bound electrons and holes. This is referred to as a secondary mechanism that causes avalanche actions. As a result, a single photon eventually generates many charge carriers. This signifies that the photodiode increases the photocurrent internally.


1.5 Avalanche Photodiode Characteristics

  • APD's intrinsic area is somewhat p-type doped. It is also known as the?-region.
  • The n+ area is the thinnest and is lit through a window.
  • The electric field is greatest at the pn+ junction and gradually decreases along the p region. Its intensity decreases in the?-region and eventually disappears at the end of the p+ layer.
  • Even absorbing a single photon result in the formation of a large number of electron-hole pairs. This is referred to as the internal gain process.
  • Avalanche multiplication refers to the formation of excess electron-hole pairs as a result of charge carrier collisions.Gain or multiplication factor,


Where iph= multiplied APD photocurrent

            ipho=photocurrent before multiplication

M value is greatly influenced by reverse bias and temperature.

1.6 Avalanche Photodiode Operation

APDs are used in a completely depleted state. APDs can operate in the Geiger mode in addition to the linear avalanche mode. The photodiode is operated at a voltage greater than its breakdown voltage in this mode of operation. Another option, known as Sub-Geiger mode, was recently introduced. In addition to single-photon sensitivity, the internal gain is quite high, barely below the breakdown.

1.7 Avalanche Photodiode Circuit Conditions

Avalanche photodiodes require a large reverse bias to function properly. This is normally between 100 and 200 volts for silicon. As a result of the avalanche effect, they see a current gain impact of roughly 100 with this level of reverse bias.

Some diodes with specialized manufacturing procedures can achieve bias voltages of up to 1500 volts. Because it has been shown that higher voltages enhance gain levels, the gain of these avalanche diodes can reach the order of 1000. This can provide a clear benefit where sensitivity is critical, but it obviously comes at the expense of all the additional circuitry and safety precautions required for extremely high voltages.

 Impact Ionization in Avalanche Photodiodes 

A sufficient number of electron-hole pairs are produced after photons are absorbed in the?-layer. The electric field separates the couples, and the independent charge carriers proceed to the n+ and p+ regions. Electrons in the p region are subjected to a tremendous electric field. Electrons drift with their saturation velocity and collide as a result of this field's effect. This collision aids in the amplification of charges. This phenomenon is known as impact ionization.

Ionization rate

Where ⍺= rate of electrons

            ꞵ= rate of holes  

2.1 Avalanche Photodiode Diagram


2.2 Avalanche Photodiode Datasheet




Dark Current


1310-1550 nm

0.8 A/W

30 nA

Germanium APD

1000-1500 nm

0.7 A/W

1000 nA

2.3 Avalanche Photodiode Module

APDs are components of modules that have other electronic devices in addition to the photodiode. Some packages may include a trans-impedance op-amp, which improves performance while increasing bandwidth and responsiveness. Some packages are designed specifically for usage in optical fiber. Some have thermosensors to improve stability.

2.4 Avalanche Photodiode Array

Avalanche photodiode arrays are compact and produce lease gain. These are specifically developed for use in LIDAR, laser rangefinders, and other similar applications. Although APD arrays are not yet commonplace, several manufacturers are producing them because of their unique properties.

2.5 Avalanche Photodiode Noise

The main sources of noise in avalanche photodiode include

  • The avalanche mechanism is the principal cause of quantum or shot noise (iQ).
  • Dark current noise is caused by the absence of light in a photodiode. It is further subdivided into bulk current noise (iDB) and surfaces current noise (USD) (iDS).
  • Thermal noise is the noise produced by the amplifier that is linked to the photodiode.

Because of carrier multiplication, significant noise is added to the current noises. This effect is known as excess noise factor or ENF.

ENF or F(M)enf

Where M = multiplication factor

            k = impact ionization coefficient

Therefore the mean square value of total noise iN in APD is,



q= charge of an electron

Ip= photocurrent

B= bandwidth

M= multiplication factor

ID= bulk dark current

IL= surface leakage current

Thermal noise in trans-impedance amplifier is,


Where kB= Boltzmann constant

           T= absolute temperature

           RL= load resistance

 Avalanche Photodiode vs. PIN Photodiode

The following are the differences between a pin photodiode and an avalanche Photodiode.

Avalanche Photodiode


PIN Photodiode

Four layers- P+, I, P, N+


Three layers- P+, I, N+

Very high

Response time

Very less

Low value of current

Output current

Carrier multiplication causes amplified current value

Gain can be as high as 200

Internal gain

Gain is insignificant

Highly sensitive


Slightly less sensitive

Amplifiers can improve the performance, but APD can still function without this as the gain is already there.


No internal gain is there, so the use of amplifiers is mandatory.

Higher due to charge multiplication


Comparatively lesser than APDs

Extremely high 

Reverse Bias voltage



Temperature stability


3.1 Avalanche Photodiode Amplifier

APDs, like PIN photodiodes, use a four-channel trans-impedance amplifier to provide low noise, high impedance, and low power consumption. Some amplifiers provide temperature flexibility as well as excellent dependability. All of these qualities qualify the photodiode for usage in LIDAR receivers.

3.2 Avalanche Photodiode Detector

Because of their higher sensitivity, APDs are preferred over PIN photodiodes in light detection. The number of charge carriers increases as a relatively high voltage is applied, and they are accelerated by the action of strong electric fields. Internal collision happens, and charge multiplication ensues. As a result, the photocurrent value increases, improving the whole photodetection process.

3.3 Avalanche Photodiode in optical Fiber Communication

APDs are typically used in optical fiber communication systems to detect weak signals. Circuitry must be adjusted to detect weak signals while retaining a high SNR (Signal to noise ratio). Here,


Quantum efficiency must be high to achieve a decent SNR. Because this value is so close to the maximum, the majority of the signals are identified.

 Comparison Between APD and PMT | Avalanche Photodiode vs Photomultiplier Tube

Avalanche Photodiode

Photomultiplier Tube 

It consists of four layers with different doping concentrations.

It consists of a photocathode, dynodes, and a vacuum glass tube.

It uses the avalanche multiplication phenomenon to produce charge carriers.

It uses the photon absorption technique for the emission of excess electrons.

It converts photons into electrons.

It amplifies the number of electrons.

APDs are highly sensitive.

The sensitivity of PMT is limited.

The cost of APDs is lower than that of PMTs.

PMTs are the costliest devices.

 Advantages and Disadvantages of Avalanche Photodiode

5.1 Advantages of Avalanche Photodiode

  • The sensitivity range is quite broad.
  • High efficiency.
  • Rapid response time.
  • These diodes are useful where the gain level is critical due to the high voltage required, but their lesser dependability means that they are typically less comfortable to use.
  • It recognizes low-intensity light.
  • A single-photon generates a massive amount of charge carrier pairs.

5.2 Disadvantages of Avalanche Photodiode

  • The operating voltage required is high.
  • This diode's output does not follow a straight line.
  • Noise with a wide frequency range
  • Because of its limited dependability, it is seldom utilized regularly.
  • Its proper operation necessitates a significant reverse bias.

 Application of Avalanche Photodiode

Avalanche Photodiodes (APDs) have been and will continue to be used in a wide range of applications in both linear and Geiger modes of operation. The Avalanche Photodiode is well suited for applications that require high sensitivity and fast response times when operating in linear mode.

Laser range finders using APD detectors, for example, produce more sensitive instruments than those with traditional PIN detectors. Furthermore, the APDs employed in this application may work at lower light levels and with shorter laser pulses, making the range finder more 'eye-safe.'

Fast receiver modules for data transfers, high-speed laser scanner (2D bar code reader),  ceilometers (cloud height measurement), speed gun, OTDR (Optical Time Domain Reflectometry), PET Scanner, confocal microscopy, and particle detection are some more applications for linear mode APDs.

Silicon APDs in Geiger mode is used to detect single photons for photon correlation studies and have extremely short resolving times. When used in this mode, the Excelitas SLiKTM detector achieves gains of up to 108 and quantum efficiencies of - 70% at 633nm and 50% at 830nm.

Other uses for APDs operating in this mode include:

  • Lidar
  • Observations on the sky
  • determining the optical range
  • Optical fiber testing and fault detection
  • ultrasensitive fluorescence, for example

 Performance limits of the Avalanche Photodiode

The application and usefulness of avalanche photodiode are determined by a variety of factors. The quantum efficiency, which indicates how well incident optical photons are absorbed and then utilized to form primary charge carriers, and total leakage current, which is the sum of the dark current, photocurrent, and noise, are two of the more important aspects. The components of electronic dark noise are series and parallel noise. The effect of shot noise, series noise, is related to the APD capacitance, whereas parallel noise is associated with oscillations in the APD bulk and surface dark currents.

7.1 Gain noise, excess noise factor

The excess noise factor, or ENF, is another source of the noise. It is a multiplicative noise correction that describes the increase in statistical noise, notably Poisson noise, as a result of the multiplication process. The ENF is defined as any device that multiplies a signal, such as photomultiplier tubes, silicon solid-state photomultipliers, and APDs, and is frequently referred to as "gain noise."

It is calculated for an electron multiplication device by dividing the hole impact ionization rate by the electron impact ionization rate. It is preferable to have a considerable imbalance between these rates to decrease ENF(M), because ENF(M) is one of the key parameters that limits, among other things, the best feasible energy resolution.

7.2 Conversion noise, Fano factor

The avalanche photodiode noise term may also include a Fano factor, which is a multiplicative correction applied to the Poisson noise associated with the conversion of the energy deposited by a charged particle to electron-hole pairs, which is the signal before multiplication.

The correction factor describes the noise reduction, relative to Poisson statistics, caused by the conversion process's regularity and the absence of, or weak coupling to, bath states. To put it another way, an "ideal" semiconductor would convert the energy of the charged particle into an exact and reproducible number of electron-hole pairs to conserve energy; however, in reality, the energy deposited by the charged particle is divided into the generation of electron-hole pairs, the generation of sound, the generation of heat, and the generation of damage or displacement. The presence of these other channels produces a stochastic process in which the amount of energy put into any single process fluctuates from event to event, even if the amount of energy deposited remains constant.

7.3 Further influences

The fundamental physics of the excess noise factor (gain noise) and the Fano factor (conversion noise) differ significantly. The use of these components as multiplicative corrections to the predicted Poisson noise, on the other hand, is identical. In addition to excess noise, device performance is limited by capacitance, transit times, and avalanche multiplication time.  Capacitance increases with device area and decreases with thickness. Transit times (both electrons and holes) rise with thickness, implying a performance tradeoff between capacitance and transit time. The gain-bandwidth product, which is a function of the device construction and, in particular, gives the avalanche multiplication time times the gain to first order.


1. What is the Response Time of Avalanche Photodiode?

The typical response time of various avalanche photodiodes might range between 30 ps and 2 ms.

2. What Happens when you Send too much Light to an Avalanche Photodiode (APD)?

Excessive light exposure causes the diode to overheat and may damage the gadget.

3. What is the Temperature Effect on Avalanche Gain?

Gain varies linearly with temperature, just as reverse breakdown voltage varies linearly with temperature.

4. Why does Avalanche Breakdown Increase with Temperature?

A rise in temperature causes atoms to vibrate more and lowers the mean free path. Charge carriers require more energy to travel as the path narrows. As a result, the breakdown voltage must be increased.

5. What is the Dark Resistance of Photodiode?

Dark Resistance refers to the resistance of a selenium cell or equivalent photoelectric device in complete darkness.

6. Where are Avalanche Diodes Used?

Avalanche diodes are primarily utilized in radio equipment as white noise generators and noise sources. This diode protects the circuit against erroneous voltages.

7. Is Photodiode Reverse Biased?

Yes, it is reverse biased to work in the photoconductive mode since the breadth of the depletion layer is enhanced when this diode is reverse biased. As a result, the junction capacitance and response time are reduced. Because of the reverse bias, this diode has a fast response time.

8. What are Avalanche and Zener Breakdown Phenomena?

Avalanche and Zener Breakdown are two distinct mechanisms that occur when a PN junction fails. In reverse bias situations, this action primarily happens within the diode. The avalanche breakdown is mostly caused by electron ionization and hole pairs, whereas the Zener breakdown is caused by strong doping.

9. What are the Modes Available in Avalanche Device?

The diode can operate in two modes: the IMPATT mode, in which it works as a negative conductance in a resonant circuit, and the TRAPATT mode, in which it acts as a rapid switch that periodically discharges the circuit elements.

10. What is the Difference Between PNJunction and PIN Photodiode?

The PIN photodiode outperforms the basic PN junction photodiode in terms of sensitivity and performance. This is accomplished by incorporating an intrinsic area into the PN junction to form a PIN junction, which results in a huge depletion region - the region where light conversion occurs.

11. What are the Different Types of Photodiode?

Photodiodes are classified into four types:

PN photodiode: The PN photodiode was the first photodiode to be developed.

PIN photodiode: These days, PIN photodiode has a wide range of uses.

Avalanche photodiode: The avalanche process is employed to provide enhanced performance.

12. How do Photodetectors Work?

The incident light is transformed into voltage or current in a photodetector. Photodetectors include photodiodes and phototransistors. Photodetectors operate on the same principle as solar cells, converting incident sun energy into electrical energy.

13. What is the Difference between Zener Diode and Avalanche Diode?

The primary distinction between Zener breakdown and avalanche breakdown is their occurrence mechanism. The high electric field causes Zener breakdown, whereas the collision of free electrons with atoms causes avalanche breakdown. Both of these breakdowns can possible at the same time.

14. What is PIN Diode Used for?

PIN diodes are occasionally used as input protection devices for high-frequency test probes and other circuits. When the input signal is tiny, the PIN diode has little effect, exhibiting just a minor parasitic capacitance.

15. What is the Difference between Photoresistor and Photodiode?

The photoresistor simply requires two electrodes. A PN connection between the two electrodes is required for the photodiode. To boost the conduction current, one electrode's area is intended to be large, while the other is designed to be small.

16. What is Avalanche Diode Mode?

An avalanche diode is a diode (made of silicon or another semiconductor) that is intended to experience avalanche breakdown at a specific reverse bias value. This feature protects against surges better than a simple Zener diode and functions more like a gas discharge tube replacement.

17. Which Process Gives Internal Gain in anAvalanche Photodiode?

The multiplication zone M is designed to have a high electric field so that impact ionization can generate an internal photo-current gain. This gain zone must be sufficiently broad to generate a practical gain, M, of at least 100 for silicon Avalanche Photodiodes and 10-40 for germanium or InGaAs APDs.












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