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Physical-layer Network Coding (PNC) has been an active research area in both information theory and wireless communications in the past few years. However, its application in optical communications has not yet been explored. This paper proposes and demonstrates a practical optical PNC prototype for multicast protection in optical flow/burst/packet switching networks. Different from conventional theoretical PNC studies, the authors' proposed optical PNC system does not require bit synchronization and can be easily implemented. Driven by the recent popularity of high-definition videos and data-intensive applications, a steady increase of data traffic in optical networks by 40% every year has been witnessed.
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