Space-division multiplexing fibers emerged as a promising solution to overcome the imminent capacity crunch of conventional singlemode fiber networks. Despite these fibers were initially conceived as distribution media for long-haul high-capacity digital communications, they can be applied to a wide variety of scenarios including centralized radio access networks for wireless communications, data-center interconnects, Microwave Photonics signal processing and fiber sensing. Particular interest is raised by emerging communications paradigms, such as 5G and The Internet of Things, which require a full integration between the optical fiber and the wireless networks segments. Microwave Photonics, discipline that focuses on the generation, processing, control and distribution of radiofrequency signals by photonics means, is called to play a decisive role. One of the major challenges that Microwave Photonics has to overcome to satisfy next-generation communication demands relates to the reduction of size, weight and power consumption while assuring broadband seamless reconfigurability and stability. There is one revolutionary approach that has however been left untapped in finding innovative ways to address that challenge: exploiting space, the last available degree of freedom for optical multiplexing.
In this Thesis, we propose to exploit the inherent parallelism of multicore and few-mode fibers to implement sampled discrete true time delay lines, providing, in a single optical fiber, a compact and efficient approach for both Microwave Photonics signal distribution and processing. For the multicore fiber approach, we study the influence of the refractive index profile of each heterogeneous core on the propagation characteristics as to feature specific group delay and chromatic dispersion values. We designed and fabricated two different heterogeneous trench-assisted 7-core fibers that behave as sampled true time delay lines. While one of them was fabricated by using 7 different preforms to feature a plenary performance, the other one employed a single preform with the aim of minimizing fabrication costs. In the case of few-mode fibers, we propose the implementation of a tunable true time delay line by means of a custom-designed fiber with a set of inscribed long period gratings that act as mode converters to properly tailor the sample group delays. We designed and fabricated a true time delay line on a 4-mode fiber by inscribing 3 long period gratings at specific positions along the fiber link. As a proof-of-concept validation, we experimentally demonstrated different Microwave Photonics signal processing functionalities implemented over both multicore and few-mode fiber approaches. This work opens the way towards the development of distributed signal processing for microwave and millimeter wave signals in a single optical fiber. These true time delay lines can be applied to a wide range of Information and Communication Technology paradigms besides fiber-wireless communications such as broadband satellite communications, distributed sensing, medical imaging, optical coherence tomography and quantum communications