Planar lightwave circuits based on III-nitride wide-bandgap semiconductors are proposed and the feasibility of developing III-nitride-based novel photonic integrated circuits for applications in fiber-optical communications is discussed. III-nitrides have low attenuation in the near-infrared wavelength region because of their wide bandgaps, while as semiconductors their refractive indexes can be modulated by carrier injection. III-nitrides are also well known for their ability to operate at high temperatures, high power levels and in harsh environments. These characteristics make III-nitrides ideal candidates for tunable optical phased-array (PHASAR) devices for optical communications. We have characterized the optical properties of Al/sub x/Ga/sub 1-x/N epilayers in the 1550-nm wavelength region, including the refractive indexes and the impact of Al concentrations. Single-mode ridged optical waveguide devices using GaN-AlGaN heterostructures have been designed, fabricated and characterized for operation in the 1550-nm wavelength window. The birefringence of wurtzite GaN grown on sapphire substrate has been observed. Refractive indexes were found to be different for signal optical field perpendicular and parallel to the crystal c axis (n/sub /spl perp// /spl ne/ n/sub ///). More importantly, we found an approximately 10% change in the index difference /spl Delta/n=n/sub ///-n/sub /spl perp// with varying the waveguide orientation within the c plane, and a 60/spl deg/ periodicity was clearly observed. This is attributed to the hexagonal structure of the nitride materials. Various functional waveguide devices have been realized, including 2/spl times/2 directional couplers and eight-wavelength array-waveguide gratings. Theoretical predictions of temperature sensitivity and the efficiency of carrier-induced refractive change are provided.