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This paper presents and experimentally demonstrates a novel method for the estimation of optical signal-to-noise ratio (OSNR) based on the comparison of an asynchronous histogram of the signal under analysis with a reference asynchronous histogram. The latter is acquired from the signal under analysis at a calibration stage. The proposed method allows the use of optical amplification to increase the sensitivity of the optical monitoring system (OMS) by a factor 20 dB, when using an erbium doped fiber preamplifier. In addition, the use of a semiconductor optical preamplifier, initially designed for nonlinear operation at 2.5 Gb/s is used in the OMS to preamplify 40-Gb/s signals, achieving a sensitivity gain of 10 dB. It will be experimentally demonstrated that the proposed method is applicable to 40-Gb/s nonreturn to zero (NRZ) signals arbitrarily degraded by group velocity dispersion (GVD). Furthermore, accurate monitoring of the OSNR of return-to-zero (RZ) signals will also be possible using a simple RZ-to-NRZ converter based on narrow-band optical filtering within the OMS. The proposed method also allows estimating of the GVD-induced OSNR penalty between the signal under analysis and the signal at the calibration stage.