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A comprehensive characterization has been made of the static and dynamical response of conventional and multiple quantum well (MQW) avalanche photodiodes (APDs). Comparison of the gain characteristics at low voltages between the MQW and conventional APDs show a direct experimental confirmation of a structure‐induced carrier multiplication due to interband impact ionization. Similar studies of the bias dependence of the excess noise characteristics show that the low‐voltage gain is primarily due to electron ionization in the MQW‐APDs, and to both electron and hole ionization in the conventional APDs. For the doped MQW APDs, the average gain per stage was calculated by comparing gain data with carrier profile measurements, and was found to vary from 1.03 at low bias to 1.09 near avalanche breakdown. © 1995 American Institute of Physics.