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Calculations based on a rigorous analytical model are carried out to optimize the width of the indium phosphide avalanche region in high-speed direct-detection avalanche photodiode-based optical receivers. The model includes the effects of intersymbol interference (ISI), tunneling current, avalanche noise, and its correlation with the stochastic avalanche duration, as well as dead space. A minimum receiver sensitivity of -28 dBm is predicted at an optimal width of 0.18 mum and an optimal gain of approximately 13, for a 10 Gb/s communication system, assuming a Johnson noise level of 629 noise electrons per bit. The interplay among the factors controlling the optimum sensitivity is confirmed. Results show that for a given transmission speed, as the device width decreases below an optimum value, increased tunneling current outweighs avalanche noise reduction due to dead space, resulting in an increase in receiver sensitivity. As the device width increases above its optimum value, the receiver sensitivity increases as device bandwidth decreases, causing ISI to dominate avalanche noise and tunneling current shot noise.